Milestones:Rincón del Bonete, 1945

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Rincón del Bonete Hydroelectric Plant, 1937-1945

The Rincón del Bonete was the first hydroelectric plant on the “Rio Negro” (Black River) Electrification Schema, located in the middle of the country and that including a long transmission system and two additional plants downriver. With these plants, the electrical demand of Uruguay was almost completely covered by hydroelectric energy for decades. For the country, it meant the availability of abundant, clean, renewable energy and it made up for the lack of fossil fuels in the land. Furthermore, this made possible that the whole population could take advantage of early electrification, development, growth of the production and better quality of life. When the first generator went on-line in December 1945 and energy generated from the river's water started flowing 232 Km to the capital Montevideo, the dream of energy available in the country was finally realized. The completion of the project during the difficult war years set a high mark for the Engineering Profession in Uruguay, who had to re-formulate and adapt the electromechanical equipment, changing the suppliers from Germany to the United States.

Exploiting the power of the Black River was the biggest and most ambitious project in the history of the country, and of paramount social and economic significance, given the complete lack of fossil fuels in the country. The Rincón del Bonete's reservoir was at the time (and for many years) the biggest artificial lake in Latin America, almost 1% of the surface of the whole country! Technologically speaking, the Uruguayan engineers that were investigating, working, and buying the necessary parts in the US, had to reformulate the original German project to accommodate US-delivered turbines, generators, transformers, etc. Considerable knowledge of the engineering principles involved and a good dose of ingenuity were necessary, at a time when the war efforts dictated fabrication and transportation priorities, and restricted severely the availability of materials and the delivery of heavy equipment.

Initially, after winning an international bid, construction started by the German firm Siemens in 1937. In 1939, World War II made delivery of equipment across the Atlantic Ocean almost impossible. Nonetheless, in 1941 the hydroelectric plant was almost finished, but then when the U.S. and some Latin American countries were drawn into the war, the contract with Siemens was broken and qualified expertise was then impossible to obtain from the northern hemisphere. This situation posed insurmountable political and technical obstacles to the finalization of the original project. In view of this situation, “RIONE”, the state-owned company in charge of the project, commissioned a motivated group of six young Uruguayan engineers to study in the U.S. (with Harza, GE, Westinghouse, Allis Chalmers) so that they could participate proactively in the reformulation of the project. The transformation of the project (50 Hz, German standards, metric system, ...) required considerable technological alterations in order to make it possible to integrate components made in different plants, following American standards in a dam that had been specifically planned and constructed for German turbines and generators. Once back in the country, the equipment was installed entirely by local workers trained and directed by those engineers and the project was finished successfully. This achievement, that also included design and construction the state-of-the-art 150 KV, 232 Km long transmission system to the capital Montevideo, modifying and adapting as well the original design in order to make it compatible with the equipment procured in the U.S., set an internationally recognized high mark for the engineering profession in Uruguay.

The plaque will be installed on an outside wall near the entrance to the Powerhouse, which is still in operation.

GPS coordinates are: 56° 25' 18.6" S, 32° 49' 55.5" W


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