The first 611MW turbine at Brazil’s controversial 11.2GW Belo Monte hydroelectric plant began commercial operations yesterday, developer Norte Energia has announced.

In a statement, the firm said the remaining 17 generating units in the project’s main power are in the assembly phase and will gradually be placed into operation in two-month phases until the plant enters full commercial operation in 2019. The first tests are also reportedly underway for six 38.8MW bulb turbines located in the project’s secondary powerhouse.

The project, which is located on the Xingu River in Pará state, is in the final stages of construction, Norte Energia said, with electromechanical assembly works continuing.

Work on the scheme has been halted on numerous occasions as the development faced legal obstacles and criticism from environmental groups, concerned about the project’s impact on the Amazon region.