A federal judge in Brazil on Friday ordered immediate suspension of a license permitting construction of the controversial 11,233-MW Belo Monte dam complex. The license was recently issued by Brazil’s environmental agency, IBAMA, and it would have allowed dam-building consortium Norte Energia to begin clearing forestland on the margins of the Amazon’s Xingu River.

Newswire reports claim that Judge Ronaldo Desterro, who presides over a federal court in Para state, ordered a halt to work on the massive dam until all required environmental criteria had been met, including contingency plans for river transportation.

IBAMA in January greenlighted the $17 billion project, saying it was needed to meet soaring electricity demand expected by its planned completion date in 2015. The project has faced strong opposition from environmental groups and indigenous people. Earlier this month, a consortium led by Alstom Hydro, Voith Hydro, and Andritz won a $693 million contract to provide power equipment for the project.

Friday’s federal court order also barred a transfer of funds to the project from state-run BNDES development bank—which has agreed to provide 80% of the project’s financing.

Judge Desterro ruled that the initial license had been granted on Jan. 26 without ensuring that 29 conditions had been met and without the Brazilian state-owned electricity distributor Companhia Hidro Eletrica do Sao Francisco having provided information on another 33 questions that it was required to answer, reported the Latin American Herald Tribune.

For more about this controversial project, see “Brazil Greenlights 11-GW Belo Monte Project” in POWER’s March 2011 issue.

Sources: POWERnews, IBAMA, Latin American Herald Tribune, POWER