The town: Várzea da Palma

We finished our work in Pirapora and headed for our second stop: the town of Várzea da Palma and close to the well-known Helio Valgas solar power plant. Várzea also belongs to the São Francisco River region and is the end of the Rio das Velhas, one of the most important tributaries of the Velho Chico river.

According to the recently released IBGE census, it has just over thirty-three thousand inhabitants. And it is famous for the party called Forró da Palma, one of the most traditional festivals in the month of July in the state of Minas Gerais, which brings in six million reais to local businesses and brings together up to one hundred thousand people. Too bad our visit took place in March.

The name Várzea da Palma came about because of the vargem area (fertile plains near rivers), and native palm trees found there.

Várzea’s main source of income comes from agriculture, businesses serving residents, metallurgy, and other heavy manufacturing industries. And it was here that I revisited my Minas Gerais origins, in the best possible way: eating the traditional food of my state, prepared by an expert, Dona Adéria Lopes.

She runs Panela de Ferro restaurant, which also employs most of her family.

Dona Adéria left Varzea in her twenties along with her husband, but after thirty years on the road, she returned to the town and decided to set up a restaurant.

Panela de Ferro was small until recently. She says it grew with the arrival of the Hélio Valgas solar park, which is in the town.

While we were working nearby, we went there for lunch every day. And we noticed that it was always full, with lots of workers wearing uniforms from a company called Comerc, the firm responsible for setting up and operating the solar plant of Hélio Valgas.

Dona Adéria is very friendly and when I asked her why the plant’s employees went there, even though the food was provided in the park’s own cafeteria, she was a little embarrassed and said, “I think they like my seasoning, right?”

Helio Valgas Solar Complex

Commissioned in July 2023, the plant stands at one thousand one hundred and forty-two hectares, the equivalent of more than 1,500 soccer fields!

Unlike the Pirapora Solar Complex, the energy generated here goes to power local industries. Most of the energy goes to a silicon metal manufacturer. It has one million two hundred and eighteen thousand PV modules, with an installed capacity of 661 MW.

It was here, observing the structures still being assembled, that I really understood how Nextracker’s technology works.

Leonardo Madureira, a field supervisor for five years, explained that the tracker consists of the entire metal structure that supports the panels and the motor that allows it to rotate according to the movement of the sun. Based on software, the tracker captures the time of sunrise and sunset and this “intelligence” is transmitted to the gears of the mechanical system.

Inside a small box is the secret to turning the ninety modules weighing up to 40 kilos each.

Claudio Pereira, who is Comerc’s operations and maintenance manager, explained that the plant delivers renewable, clean, and sustainable energy mainly to heavy manufacturing industries.

And this has the potential of getting the industrial sector on the path to the country’s clean energy transition.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Workforce Development

I was moved by the stories of the people that I met at Hélio Valgas.

Starting with Any Luiza Lopes.

She went to college for a few years in nearby Montes Claros but stopped during the pandemic. When the solar park began construction, she was working in the funeral house in the center of Varzea da Palma, but what she really wanted was to work in the HR department of a big company.

She registered on the consortium’s website formed for the Hélio Valgas project and walked up and down carrying her printed resumé. They had her take a test and she was brought on to run Human Resources for the plant.

When we spoke, she had been employed for a year and four months. In Any’s words, “It’s a dream for us in the countryside to have the opportunity to work for a multinational company. Especially being a woman. Because it’s not easy to find a job in the region. There are few opportunities for women, especially in the administrative area.”

Then there’s Matheus Santos.

A 23-year-old from Jacareí, São Paulo, who moved to Varzea as soon as he was accepted to work at Nextracker in field operations. Matheus says he is surprised every day by the leadership at work. And that this interaction has made him improve as a professional and as a person.

He mentioned he’s learned tips on how to work in the corporate world from his supervisors. Matheus has realized what a privilege it is, at this age, to be employed by a company so focused on the sustainability of our planet. That’s why he wants to share everything he’s learning with his new colleagues and give back

Persistence Pays Off for Diverse Talent

Imagine spending six years in a city looking for a formal job and not being successful. Well, many Brazilians are facing a similar situation today. But in the case of Fredson Silva, age 40, he had a feeling it wasn’t just an economic crisis.

When he went to live with his mother in Varzea da Palma, he saw many people getting jobs. But the doors for him remained closed.

Then his chance finally arrived.

He was selected for a job on the Hélio Valgas construction site. I asked Fredison why he thought it took him so long to join a company in the region. And he replied: “because of prejudice and bias.”

Fredson is part of the LGBTQIA+ community and for the first time, he was being given a chance to show that he was as capable as any other worker.

He started at Hélio Valgas as a site assistant carrying heavy material from one place to another and is now a team leader with 17 workers under his supervision. He’s also begun instructing on site which has been gratifying.

He discovered that as a homosexual he had the right to be part of society. And he told me: “For the first time, I feel like I belong in this world.”

The From Gold to Sun project reinforced this in my mind.

There can be no business success, of any size, without all types of humans participating.

The People We Met



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