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High Tension in Low-Lying Places | NIMBY in the Alto de Pinheiros


I suppose I have lived here in Sambodia long enough now to be drawn in to local NIMBYism — «not in my backyard» lobbying in defense of narrow interests.

Hell, taking a gander at our IPTU — property taxes, basically — is turning me into someone with a valid opinion on the subject.

A case in point, featured on Page C1 of the Folha de S. Paulo today:

Source: Folha de S.Paulo
Translation: C. Brayton

The legal battle between residents of the Alto de Pinheiros neighborhood — Western Zone — and electricity supplier AES Eletropaulo over the network of high-tension wires that crosses the neighborhood has arrived at the federal supreme court, the STF.

  • System is totally safe, company says
  • Electricity grid should be buried, says local resident
  • Cell phone antennas also the target of lawsuits.

The STF will hold a three-day public hearing in March to discuss whether high-tension towers lead to health problems, such as cancer.

Residents are paying international specialists to defend their position in Brasília.

Which international experts?

The case — originally filed in 2001 — comes at a moment when the federal government is working to reduce electricity rates by some 20% nationwide and at the same time to stimulate investments in maintenance and R&D by the by electricity concession-holders.

I know, I know, it does sound like a double whammy for the light & power sector, whose reaction to this series of price-control measures has been split between the major state-owned generators and distributors and the federally-subsidized ones, where the federal Eletrobras has a substantial say in management.

The topic is a controversial one. Experts say it is not possible to categorically affirm that radiation from the transmission towers causes cancer. But they also say that caution is needed and that residents should be at least minimally protected. Some foreign nations set maximum levels much lower than those observed in Brasil.

The hearing was scheduled  by STF justice Dias Toffoli, who will be called upon to rule on an appeal by Eletropaulo. The energy company has already lost its case in two lower courts.

Two organizations, the Friends of Alto de Pinheiros and the Friends of  Bairro City Boaçava filed suit against Eletropaulo in 2001, requesting the reduction of the electromagnetic field emitted by transmission lines.

The suit began when  Eletropaulo tried to increase the voltage of its transmission lines during the 1990s. The increase would have made the electromagnetic filed more intense.

“The lines pass within a few yards of private residences. Readings taken in my bedroom indicate high intensity,” says local resident and engineer Raymundo Medeiros, 76.

According to the specific case before the STF, the high tension wires cut across two neighborhoods, affecting dozens of city blocks.

Eletropaulo says that the line operates at  6 microTesla — a measure of radiation intensity.

“We are asking that it be reduced to one microTesla”, says Elza Boiteux, attorney for the Alto de Pinheiros residents and a USP law professor.

One microTesla is the standard in Switzerland, which has some of the most rigorous environmental codes in the world.

“Studies show that it is not possible to rule out effects on public health,” says Nelson Gouveia, a USP medical progressor and expert in electromagnetic pollution.

According to Gouveia, the ideal would be respecting the most recent standards issued by the World Health Organization.  “Ongoing exposure inside the home should be no more than 3 microTesla,” Gouveia says.

According to Gouveia, the research done to date indicates that if there really is a risk of cancer, the risk would be primarily to children, although a correlation has yet to be established between the two.

According to the lovely infographic supplied by the Folha — above — the issue affects some 65,000 residences — or is it residents? — or 1.3% of the greater metro area. It is residents.

The report is accompanied by an interview with the 76-year-old engineer cited in the body, who cites an example from the 1960s to illustrate the risk: a high-tension line fell into the street and electrocuted an unfortunate horse.

In an acompanying box, AES Eletropaulo defends the quality of its maintenance — despite the continuing rash of transformer explosions during heavy afternoon rains observed up close and personally by your correspondent.

Noted opposition blogger Reinaldo Azevedo lays out the standard talking point:

Raise your hand if you are against cheaper electricity. Anyone?  And why would there be anyone? Pure stupidity? The evil gene? Fetishism? The hypothesis is outlandish, in and of itself

The real question, obviously, is not whether you are for or against, but the manner in which President Dilma has acted. All in all, her government’s intervention in the energy sector has proven to be the worst case of drunk driving to date.  In a little over four months, the market value of 34 listed Brazilian companies in the electric sector fell R$ 37.23 billion. «Never before in the history of this nation » have we seen such a «revolution» in any sector of the economy, debasing so many companies. It’s insane.

And why did it happen? Dilma acted as though the capital markets did not exist. She ignored one of the natural functions of capitalism — one of its positive functionbs — which is to set a price on things. If the government intervenes in a sector without a well publicized and consistent plan, without due compensation, the adding machine of market price goes into action. And what do investors come to believe at the end of the game? Losses, not gains. Why would these investors — who finance economic activity, Dilma —  keep betting on what will almost certainly turn out to be a bad bet? Patriotism? Loyalty to the cause?

Fortunately, Brazil is not Venezuela. Believe me, one of the factors that makes this so is the presence of relatively well-organized capital markets that serve as a radar screen. This serves as a deterrent to the interventionist appetites of the government. Dilma believed, as far as the energy market was concerned, that she could «pull off a Chávez»: “Done and done!” Not! And take note: these sorts of unilateral gambits don’t work even in Venezuela, as we are tired of hearing. …

Luis Nassif of the situationist Carta Capital this week criticizes mainstream news media analyses of the electrical sector, using alarmist language to promote baseless factoids.

In Brazil, the CVM — rough equivalent of the SEC — is charged with overseeing markets and market information. The CVM is very effective at punishing leaks of privileged information and market manipulations in general. It is utterly remiss, however, in its treatment of episodes involving the media.

Trivia question: Who was that British market journalist convicted of aiding and abetting a pump and dump scheme a few years back?

A few days ago, the Folha de S. Paulo reported that the government had called an emergency special session of the CMSE — The Electric Sector Monitoring Council — due to an imminent risk of energy rationing.

The news was fake [the meeting was regularly scheduled and the risk, far from imminent — but even so it was picked up by other news agencies and repeated all through the day, despite the correction published on the Web site of the Mining & Energy ministry and information supplied by the EPE — the Energy Research Corporation.

In the energy markets, where only professional investors ply their trade,  prices did not budge. In the stock market, used by all sorts of players, shares in electric companies rose and fell quickly, a process helped along by the falling stock price of  Eletrobrás after the government decided on new procedures for the renewal of  concessions

The shares fell that day, and then, two days after the attempted mongering of scandal, began rising again.

CESP shares rose 3.49%. Eletropaulo PN was up 2.53% and Eletrobras PNB rose 2.27%.

Many people realized a profit on these trading parties at the cost of the losers.

Nassif goes on to lament the susceptibility of Brazilian news media to moral panic-driven scandla-mongering.