Dry conditions in the southern Andes continue to restrict power generation at Paute hydro plants

Nov 25, 2023 | 0 comments

While recent rains have boosted electric generation at the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric plant on the Rio Coca, drought conditions to the south continue to restrict production at the Rio Paute facilities. “Although we are operating at 75% to 80% of capacity at Coca Codo, low water conditions keep generation on the Rio Paute below 40%,” said Energy Ministry spokeswoman Diana Carrera. “Unless circumstances change, power blackouts will be necessary for two to three more weeks until new power sources come online.”

The Mazar-Paute hydroelectric plant in Azuay Province.

According to Carrera, Coca Codo supplies about half of Ecuador’s electricity under normal conditions while the three plants on the Rio Paute supply 35%. “Obviously, we rely very much on generation at Paute and with water flow levels low, the generation deficit is prolonging the crisis.”

Coca Codo is located 80 kilometers east of Quito. The Rio Paute plants are about 50 kilometers east of Cuenca.

Due to geography, Ecuador’s hydroelectric generation plants depend on consistent rainfall patterns, says Carrera. “The rivers that feed our power facilities are relatively short, beginning at higher elevations of the Andes Mountains and flowing down,” she says. “This is true with the Rios Paute and Coca.”

She adds: “Not only do we depend on the rainy season to keep the rivers full, we depend on it to fill the watersheds in the mountains to supply the rivers during dry periods. The problem this year is that the rainfall deficit has not allowed the watersheds to be replenished. In addition, the rainfall we expected in October and November, usually a rainy period, is well below normal.”

Because of the dry watershed, Carrea explains, recent rains at Rio Paute have failed to keep the flow levels consistent. “We have experienced strong increases in flow rates after rain showers, but the rate drops dramatically in the days afterward.”

According to Ecuador’s weather service, rain showers are expected to continue on the east side of Andes, near the Coca Codo and Paute hyrdro plants. It says however, that although some showers will be intense, they will be sporadic and provide relief only to localized areas. “The Amazon basin, where most of the showers originate, remains much dryer than normal due to the effect from El Niño,” the weather service said in a statement. “Because of El Niño, the prediction of weather patterns over the next three to four months will be difficult. However, we expect rainfall to remain below normal levels.”

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