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Is a Dam in Rural Portugal a Key to Our Alternative Energy Future?


When the Portuguese electric power grid needs more electricity, a large multinational power company releases millions of gallons of water from a dammed reservoir.Stanley Reed and Matilde Viegas traveled to Ribeira de Pena in northwest Portugal to explore the project and photograph it extensively.Jan. 3, 2023When Portugal’s electrical system needs a boost, a signal activates a power plant buried deep in a hillside in the country’s scrubby, pine-covered north. Inside the man-made cavern, valves, nine feet in diameter, suddenly open, allowing water draining from a reservoir four miles away to begin streaming through four massive turbines.Up close, the spinning turbines make an earsplitting din. At full power, they generate enough electricity to rival a nuclear reactor.This is the heart of a vast hydroelectric project that is reshaping a rugged river valley about 65 miles east of Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city after Lisbon. Besides the underground power plant, Iberdrola, the Spanish energy giant, has built three dams in the area — two on the Tâmega River and one on a feeder stream — and the three resulting reservoirs sprawl over nearly four square miles.“This is my pyramids,” said David Rivera Pantoja, the project manag …

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