BRASILIA, Brazil — A consortium of nine companies has won the rights to build one of the world's largest hydroelectric dams, Brazilian authorities said Tuesday.
Brazil's electricity regulator, Aneel, said the Norte Energia consortium won the bidding process for the huge Amazon project, which is heavily opposed by environmentalists, Indians and the director of the blockbuster movie "Avatar."
The consortium is led by state-controlled Companhia Hidro Eletrica do Sao Francisco, which offered a price of 77.97 reals ($57.12) per megawatt produced. The other partners are all private. The consortium had only one competitor: the Belo Monte consortium, composed of six companies.
The bidding for the Belo Monte dam was halted three times before a final appeal by the government allowed the winning bidder to be announced Tuesday.
About 500 protesters gathered outside the Aneel building where the bidding took place to condemn the project, saying it will cause serious social and environmental damages.
The government dismisses claims that the project will have a negative impact on the environment or the local community.
"Belo Monte is the most studied hydroelectric plant in the world," Mines and Energy Minister Marcio Zimmermann said.
The $11 billion, 11,000-megawatt dam, to be constructed on the Xingu River feeding the Amazon, would be the world's third-largest hydroelectric energy producer, behind China's Three Gorges dam and the Itaipu dam that straddles the border of Brazil and Paraguay.
Movie director James Cameron has lobbied to stop the project, visiting Brazil's Indians and even comparing their struggle against the dam to the plot of "Avatar."
"Avatar" depicts a fictitious Na'vi race fighting to protect its homeland, the forest-covered moon Pandora, from plans to extract its resources.
Environmentalists and indigenous groups say Belo Monte would devastate wildlife and the livelihoods of 40,000 people who live in the area to be flooded.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva insists that the dam is essential, and says it will provide clean and renewable energy to fuel the South American country's growing economy.
Opponents organized protests across Brazil on Tuesday to condemn the project. Amazon Watch, a San Francisco-based group that works to protect the rain forest and the indigenous people living there, said thousands of people were engaging in coordinated protests in nine cities, including in Altamira, which would be partially flooded by the Belo Monte reservoir.
The group said Indians began arriving by boat to establish a permanent village to block the dam's construction.
Zimmermann said Altamira will significantly benefit from development spurred by the dam.
Associated Press Writer Tales Azzoni in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.