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The gamble in Brazil

Italy's Enel group has made no secret of its desire to target Brazil as a springboard for growth in Latin America.

This week's startup of the 158MW Lapa complex - Brazil's largest solar PV plant - is the latest milestone in Enel's plans to expand its renewables footprint in the region.

Backed by 20-year supply contracts, the facility will generate around 340GWh of electricity a year, meeting the needs of more than 166,000 households.

Lapa's inauguration comes less than six months after Enel announced it would invest 3.2bn euros (US$3.6bn) in its Brazil businesses from 2017 to 2019.

The figure represents 15% of the company's planned global outlay for the period and half of that earmarked for Latin America.

Its Brazilian generation project pipeline totals 1.2GW of solar and wind capacity, to go along with the 1.6GW already in operation. Expected investment in the new plants is US$2bn.

The biggest project in Enel's Brazil portfolio is the 254MW Ituverava solar plant, due online by the end of the year.

Elsewhere in the region, the company's renewables unit, Enel Green Power (EGP), has burgeoning operations in Mexico, Chile, Panama, Uruguay, Guatemala and Costa Rica.

EGP´s flagship project is the 754MW Villanueva solar park in Mexico - the largest PV project in the Americas.

But while renewable generation is a priority, the Rome-based firm is also making a significant foray into Brazil's electricity distribution segment.  

Having already owned controlling stakes in local electricity distributors Ampla and Coelce, Enel last year successfully bid 2.187bn reais (around US$640mn) for a 94.8% stake in Celg-D.

Formerly owned by state-run group Eletrobras, Celg-D provides electricity to 2.61mn customers across 237 municipalities in Goiás state, covering an area of 336,871km2.

Enel could further expand its presence in the segment this year as Eletrobras moves ahead with plans to offload another six distributors by December.

Upon announcing the company's growth plans last November, Enel CEO Francesco Starace said he was unconcerned by the country's political and economic upheaval.

"We're very confident the crisis will pass in Brazil and the country will return to the investment horizon," he said. "We believe that Brazil will be a great opportunity and we're investing during this cycle."

Brazil's largest solar park

Enel Green Power Brasil has announced the start of commercial operations at Brazil's largest solar PV park.

The Lapa complex in the northeastern state of Bahia boasts installed capacity of 158MW, comprising the Bom Jesus da Lapa (80MW) and Lapa (78MW) plants, Enel said in a statement on Monday.

The project, which required investment of US$175mn, was completed more than two months ahead of schedule, according to Enel's Brazil country manager Carlo Zorzoli.

"This project will deliver much needed power to the energy thirsty northeast of Brazil that is currently facing a serious drought," he said.

The complex is supported by 20-year supply contracts secured at a public auction for reserve power.

Enel said electricity generation at Lapa would be optimized by an innovative design that features new tracker solutions and conversion units.

The park will generate around 340GWh a year, meeting the needs of more than 166,000 households.

In addition to Lapa, Enel already operates 264MW of wind power in Bahia and has around 800MW of wind and solar projects under construction in the state.

Projects underway are the 254MW Ituverava and the 103MW Horizonte solar parks, as well as the 172MW Morro de Chapéu, the 180MW Delfina and the 90MW Cristalândia wind farms.

In total, Enel has 1.46GW of installed capacity in Brazil, of which 401MW comes from wind power, 170MW from solar PV and 893MW from hydropower. A further 442MW of wind and 649MW of solar capacity is under construction.

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