Ecuador electric utility requests permission to begin national service blackouts

Oct 26, 2023 | 0 comments

The National Electricity Operator (Cenace) has requested permission from the Ministry of Energy to impose series of electric service blackouts as a result of low water levels at the country’s hydroelectric plants.

The Paute hydroelectric generation complex, east of Cuenca, is operating at 40% of normal capacity due to drought conditions.

“Because of the continuing drought and its effect on hydroelectric power generation, it is necessary to start a program of rationing in the Ecuadorian electricity system,” Cenace director Gabriel Argüello said Wednesday in a letter to the Energy Ministry.

Argüello said that rains that fell Monday and Tuesday in parts of the sierra give Cenace “a few more days” to plan a program of blackouts. “Those showers provided temporary relief, but they are a drop in the pond of what is needed to restore reservoir levels for the purpose of power generation.”

Energy Minister Fernando Santos acknowledged the Cenace request and said he will provide the approval within a matter of days.

Argüello says the urgency to begin blackouts is due, in part, to historically low water levels at the Mazar-Paute-Sopladora hydro plants on the Paute River, east of Cuenca. “The drought is most severe in the southern sierra and the plants at Paute, which are the country’s second largest source of electricity, have been severely affected,” he says.

According to Cenace, the Paute complex, which usually generates more than 1,400 megawatts of electricity, is operating at 40% capacity.

Cenace is increasing output at the diesel- and gas-powered plants near Machala, Guayaquil and Esmeraldas but Argüello says that, all together, they generate less than 100 megawatts. He adds that the electrical system needs at least 400 megawatts to avoid blackout and that amount will increase if the drought continues.

In his letter requesting rationing, Argüello said it was impossible to predict how long the drought would continue. “Under normal circumstances, the dry season ends in September and early October but the impending El Niño changes this dynamic,” he said. “In the worst case, we could experience dry conditions through March of 2024.”

The Colombia utilities authority, which has provided as much as 13% of Ecuador electric power in recent months, announced last week that it will no longer sell hydro-generated electricity to Ecuador due to its own drought emergency.

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