Rio Favela Leaders Go to Brasília to Advocate for Clean and Just Energy

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From May 26-29, 2024, a delegation of 19 community organizers representing favelas across Rio de Janeiro with 1.2 million residents brought their demanda for clean and just energy to federal policymakers in the Brazilian capital of Brasília.

They were three intense days filled with powerful and productive dialogues about energy access, quality, and efficiency in favelas. With a focus on energy justice, the Sustainable Favela Network delegationHeading to Brasília for Energy Justice’ participated in numerous meetings, discussions, and provided comment during the ‘Just Energy Transition: The Social Role of Solar Energy’ hearing organized by Congressman Bandeira de Mello, who leads the Federal Commission on Mines and Energy. This public hearing, held on World Energy Day (May 29), sparked a broad dialogue about social solar energy.

The delegation’s participation was fueled by data collected by the SFN over several years, including the Energy Efficiency in Favelas report, and also based on grassroots initiatives solving energy challenges. They were able to engage in dialogue with policymakers and relevant stakeholders in the energy sector.

'Heading to Brasília' flyer (front)
‘Heading to Brasília’ flyer (front)

During its time in Brasília, the delegation pushed three key themes that members had prioritized collectively as the group prepared their federal advocacy strategy:

  • The renewal of electricity concessions;
  • Expanding the social tariff;
  • Social solar energy.

Together with national partners Arayara, ClimaInfo, Inesc, Instituto Clima e Sociedade (ICS), Instituto Pólis, Lemon Energy, and Revolusolar, the group of Rio de Janeiro favela organizers realized dialogues with relevant bodies across the federal public sector.

The delegation started its journey on May 26 at the Brazilian National Congress touring places where discussions would take place on the following days: Ulysses Guimarães Auditorium, Green Hall, Imperial Palms Garden, Three Powers Plaza, and other nearby spaces for a close-up lesson about Brazil’s two legislative houses. They also visited an exhibition about the looting that took place on January 8, 2023, documenting the violence that struck the Three Powers Plaza by a mob that rejected the presidential election results.

The delegation’s first day, May 26, concluded with an opening reception offered by partners from the Arayara Institute. Partner organizations were able to meet in person, socialize, and align on the week’s commitments.

On the morning of May 27, the delegation held a public meeting in Plenary Room 16 of the Chamber of Deputies: “Energy Justice in the Favelas: Grassroots Data and Solutions.” This was the only complete presentation by the delegation where all members made statements alongside the data they had collected about energy in Rio’s favelas, which provided a crucial complement to the hearing that would be held two days later.

Watch the full presentation of testimonies and data shared during the meeting (in Portuguese):

On the afternoon of May 27, the delegation was received for a three-hour, closed-door meeting with a number of high-level regulators from the National Electric Energy Agency (ANEEL), responsible for monitoring and regulating electric energy in Brazil. During the meeting, the energy efficiency report was presented in full, and some of the delegation’s statements highlighted the challenges residents face that are reflected in the data. The praise offered by ANEEL communicated that the group’s report contains unprecedented data, presented to the agency for the first time, with information the regulators have been seeking to better understand vulnerable populations. However, due to such data’s inherent sensitivity, ANEEL had found them difficult to collect as outsiders to favelas. Examples of the data collected include how much a favela resident can afford to pay, on average, towards their electricity bill and the clear inverse relationship between income and clandestine electricity connections. This inverse relationship exists within specific favelas, whereby the lowest income residents are more likely to rely on clandestine connections while higher income residents are not, showing that clandestine connections are the result of the absence of financial resources and not driven by criminal intent. There was an exchange on how ANEEL addresses some of the challenges presented. This exchange resulted in ANEEL inviting the delegation to be represented in an international workshop on ‘non-technical losses’ in July.

The Sustainable Favela Network presented the results of the ‘Energy Efficiency in Favelas’ study to the National Electric Energy Agency (ANEEL) on May 27 in Brasília. Photo: Patrícia Schneidewind
The Sustainable Favela Network presented the results of the ‘Energy Efficiency in Favelas’ study to the National Electric Energy Agency (ANEEL) on May 27 in Brasília. Photo: Patricia Schneidewind
'Heading to Brasília' flyer (back).
‘Heading to Brasília’ flyer (back).

On Tuesday, May 28, a packed agenda of meetings began with the delegation’s presence at a ceremony honoring Brazil’s Atlantic Forest at the National Congress. Shortly after, the delegation met with the Chamber of Deputies’ Environmental Parliamentary Front, a cross-party group of legislators committed to environmental causes. Congressman Nilto Tatto and Congressman Pedro Campos joined in a broad dialogue where the delegation was able to put forth solutions. Luis Cassiano shared the Green Roof Favela project in Parque Arará, Otávio Barros presented the sewage treatment bio-system built by Vale Encantado residents, and Revolusolar presented its solar energy initiatives in Babilônia, Chapéu-Mangueira, and beyond. At the end of the meeting, an appeal was made for the State to recognize the work of favela organizers as essential in the face of climate crises. Later that day, the delegation also held discussions to advance their agenda with congressmen Bandeira de Mello and Tarcísio Motta.

In the afternoon, the group met with the National Secretariat for the Peripheries (SNP) at the Ministry of Cities, where they had a discussion with Secretary Guilherme Simões. During this meeting, the Secretariat’s work and objectives were presented to the delegation, along with information about the Caravan of the Peripheries, the Living Peripheries Award, and the Map of the Peripheries. These initiatives aim to catalyze public interventions by bridging the federal government with existing and proven peripheral initiatives. They also discussed the new Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) and communities where new projects with nature-based solutions will be carried out in Rio de Janeiro, such as Complexo da Maré and Complexo do Alemão.

Gabrielle Conceição, a member of City of God’s Alfazendo project, gives her statement. Photo: Patricia Schneidewind
Gabrielle Conceição, a member of City of God’s Alfazendo project, gives her statement. Photo: Patricia Schneidewind

Finally, on May 29, World Energy Day, the delegation started the day with a closed-door meeting with National Secretary of Electric Energy Gentil Nogueira and other technical officials at the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME). At this meeting, the delegation was able to present and discuss the topics relevant to its three-point agenda and MME-relevant data on electricity in favelas. Secretary Nogueira brought to everyone’s attention that although favelas are commonly criminalized for energy theft, the highest rates of clandestine connections are not found in favelas but rather in the “formal city” of Rio. He also highlighted that private utilities are regularly pressured by the Ministry to resolve this issue.

Nill Santos from the Association of Women With Attitude and Social Commitment presents in Brasília, representing the Sustainable Favela Network. Photo: Patricia Schneidewind
Nill Santos from the Association of Women With Attitude and Social Commitment presents in Brasília, representing the Sustainable Favela Network. Photo: Patricia Schneidewind

The long-awaited public hearing ‘Just Energy Transition: The Social Role of Solar Energy’ by the Permanent Committee on Mines and Energy took place right after the MME meeting. Held in Plenary Room 14 of Annex II of the Chamber of Deputies and broadcast live, it featured powerful speeches from the Sustainable Favela Network. Eduardo Avila from Revolusolar addressed the climate crisis and energy transition, distributed generation with solar energy, the roles of solar energy, and opportunities for public policies. Kayo Moura from LabJaca presented fundamental data from the Energy Efficiency in the Favelas report, and Nill Santos from the Association of Women With Attitude and Social Commitment moved the audience by sharing her story about overcoming domestic violence:

“Not having access to energy is also a form of violence. Either [a mother] eats, or she pays the electric bill. Solar energy not only reduces the cost of electricity, but gives this woman dignity, as she can take a course and start installing new solar panels within the community. Today, an electric bill that was difficult to pay, worth R$300 to R$400 (US$55 to US$74), is just R$100 (US$18).”

For the Sustainable Favela Network delegation, the days in Brasília were of achievement and valuable contacts on a long journey that began in 2020 with a focus on citizen-generated data in 2022. What began as a research project has taken on unprecedented proportions and has become crucial for advocacy in favor of fairer and more participatory energy, where the favela plays a leading role. Brasília is also ours!

Don’t miss the full album by Patrícia Schneidewind on Flickr:

Rumo a Brasília pela Energia Justa — RFS 26-29 de maio de 2024

*The Sustainable Favela Network (SFN) and RioOnWatch are initiatives managed by NGO Catalytic Communities (CatComm).

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