120 Years of the Parnahyba Hydropower Plant: The View

Explore the centenary history of the Parnahyba Hydropower Plant, located in the outskirts of São Paulo. (Part 1/3)

By The Energy and Sanitation Foundation


120 years of the Parnahyba Hydropower Plant

Towards the end of the 19th century and in the first decades of the 20th, São Paulo underwent several transformations. Leaving a rural past behind, the city swiftly became a hub of transit networks, encompassing a large circulation of people and goods. As a result, the city’s lifestyles developed greatly, becoming more aligned with the ever-growing urban way of life.

Construction of the Number 2 Pipeline (1900)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation


The Light

 Electricity had a fundamental role in these transformations.   On September 23rd, 1901, the Parnahyba Hydropower Plant was inaugurated, being the first large scale plant constructed in Brazil, by The San Paulo Tramway Light and Power Company.

Electricity for São Paulo

Initially, the power generated in the Plant was allotted to the charging of both the electric tram system and the capital city’s public lighting, which led to the Plant eventually becoming one of the main contributors to the industrial leap undergone by the city of São Paulo throughout the first twenty years of the 20th century.

120 years

Celebrating the 120th Anniversary of the former Parnahyba Hydropower Plant, now the Edgar de Souza Dam, the Foundation of Energy and Sanitation presents images and curiosity bits of this piece of history, through ample documentation of the Plant’s construction process in the exposition “120 years of the Parnahyba Hydropower Plant”.  

Partial view of the Cachoeira do Inferno (Hell’s Waterfall), in the Tietê River (1900-01-12)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

The Landscape

The Parnahyba Hydropower Plant is the byproduct of human interaction with the environment, as a result of the growing usage of new technologies and techniques developed since the later decades of the 19th century.

The  environment

for the installation of the Plant was the Cachoeira do Inferno (Hell’s Waterfall), a natural waterfall in the Tietê River, in the city of Santana de Parnaíba. 

The Tietê river

The Tietê is the largest river in the State of São Paulo, with its source being in the county of Salesópolis, a few kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean, flowing inwardly from the coast, and draining in the Paraná River, at the state border between São Paulo and Mato Grosso do Sul.

Throughout the years, the Tietê River had an instrumental role in the initial occupation of the State’s land, being used by the native indigenous inhabitants as a means of fluvial transportation and for localization upon its surrounding margins, and, also later, during the Portuguese colonization of the land. In the colonial times, the foundation of settlements and villages happened mostly on the river’s vicinities, as a way of facilitating the fluvial transportation among the villages, while also providing access to food and water to their inhabitants. 

The location chosen for the Parnahyba Hydropower Plant denounces a series of decisions taken by the public authorities over the years that resulted in significant consequences to the city of São Paulo in the medium to long term, which led up to the eventual straightening of the Tietê River – originally a river full of banks and bends, which underwent flood and dry seasons throughout the year. 

General view of the Tietê River, at the section near the Cachoeira do Inferno (Hell’s Waterfall) (1900-01-12) by Guilherme GaenslyThe Energy and Sanitation Foundation

The force of the Tietê River’s water

currents was the main source of the Plant’s power generation.

The Cachoeira do Inferno (Hell’s Waterfall)

was chosen due to its proximity to the city of São Paulo. The initial calculations indicated that, after the damming, the creation of a 25-meter water drop would provide the total potency of 20.000 horses, which guaranteed an outstanding prospect for the generation of hydroelectricity. 

Master plan for hydroelectricity development in the region of São Paulo (1952-07)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

By the blueprint from 1952, we can visualize the distance between the Parnahyba Hydropower Plant construction site and the city of São Paulo. In 1900, with no roads built, the commutation, now considered short, was extremely challenging to the entire crew involved.

Situated 30 kilometers away from the capital, the Parnahyba Hydropower Plant was constructed in the city of Santana do Parnaíba.

The American engineer Hugh L. Cooper was the one appointed to choose the Plant’s construction site. He had previously been responsible for the construction of the Keokuk Dam, in the Mississippi river, in the United States of America, and of the Dnieper Plants, in Russia.

Topographic surveying of the Parnahyba Hydropower Plant’s facilities (1901)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation

The place

Due to its inaccessibility,  the Light company needed to create a road network that connected the 30 kilometers in-between the two cities. Furthermore, the company also counted on the railroad network to transport the imported materials shipped in through the Porto de Santos (Santos Seaport). 

Technical Outline of the Parnahyba Hydropower Plant (1921-06)The Energy and Sanitation Foundation


Even though it led to the generation of the electrical energy that powered São Paulo in the first few decades of the 20th century, the construction of the Parnahyba Hydropower Plant ended up transforming the habitual flooding seasons of the Tietê River in inundations well beyond the river’s floodplains. 

Excerpt of the report (1901-10-27) by A. AschoffThe Energy and Sanitation Foundation

"The Tietê, one of the most powerful tributaries of the highly important Paraná hydrographic basin; has its origins in the wild regions of the western coast of the Serra do Mar (Seaside Mountain Range), and as it approaches the picturesque Parnahyba village, situated to the left, it flows swiftly and foamy, creating a natural 13-meters water drop in a distance of only 750 meters." (Excerpt of the report by A. Aschoff to the Journal of Commerce. October 27th, 1901. The Energy and Sanitation Foundation collection)

"The idea, however, of harnessing its energy as a contributing factor to the industrial progress of the flourishing capital of São Paulo came from the gentlemen Mr. Gualco and Souza, who together obtained from the State and County authorities the license to what, after several modifications, constitutes the current Light & Power.” (Excerpt of the report by A. Aschoff to the Journal of Commerce. October 27th, 1901. The Energy and Sanitation Foundation collection)

Workers in the construction site of the main penstock (1900-07-19) by Guilherme GaenslyThe Energy and Sanitation Foundation

The workforce

The individuals behind the history of the Parnahyba Plant... continue to part 2.

Credits: Story

Energy and Sanitation Foundation

Administrative Council
President Renato de Oliveira Diniz
Executive Director Rita de Cassia Martins Souza 

Supporting companies, sponsors and partners
Danillo Sene | Enel
José Renato Domingues | CTG Brasil
Mario Luiz do Nascimento Oliveira | EMAE
Renato Erdmann Gonçalves | Sabesp
Sergio Fernando Larizzatti | CESP 

Community with notorious ability
Gildo Magalhães dos Santos Filho
Renato de Oliveira Diniz
Sergio Augusto de Arruda Camargo
Sueli Angelo Furlan 

Employee Representative
Denis Quartim De Blasiis 

Fiscal Council
Daniel Jesus de Lima | EMAE
Francisco José Cavalcante Júnior | Sabesp
Lucas Penido Alipio | CESP 

The Energy and Sanitation Foundation Collection
Curatorship: Danieli Giovanini | Tatiana Ishikawa
Exhibition Project: Danieli Giovanini
Collection research and selection: Alexia Rodrigues | Danieli Giovanini | Tatiana Ishikawa
Texts: Danieli Giovanini | Tatiana Ishikawa
Translation: Gabriel Almeida Couri
Review: Mariana de Andrade Dias da Silva
Graphic Designer: Fernando de Sousa Lima
Technical Support: Camila Cury (Google Arts & Culture)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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