Emergency declared for electrical system as Colombia announces cuts in power transfers

Oct 19, 2023 | 0 comments

Ecuador’s Energy Ministry declared a national emergency for the country’s electrical system Wednesday, a move that it allows it to increase non-hydro electrical generation and to impose service blackouts if necessary.

A hydroelectric power plant in Baños de Agua Santa, Tungurahua Province.

The move was required, the ministry said, following a decision by Colombia to reduce electricity sales to Ecuador. A ministry spokesman added that the continuing drought in the watersheds near Ecuador’s hydro-generation plants was another factor in the decision.

“The Colombia electricity authority notified us earlier this week that they will no longer sell electricity produced in its hydroelectric facilities due to drought conditions,” Juan Ortiz said. “They will only sell us power from gas and oil generation plants, which means the transfers will almost certainly be reduced.”

Another problem, Ortiz said is that non-hydro electricity from Colombia costs more. According to the Electric Corporation of Ecuador, the cost per kilowatt hour has risen from 30 cents to 57 since Colombia announced its decision. Electricty costs to Ecuadorian customers is subsidized by the government.

Ortiz says that despite more rain in recent weeks, little of it has been fallen near rivers that generate most of Ecuador’s electricity. “The emergency is necessary because of the drought and the fear that dry weather in the mountains will continue due to El Niño,” he said. “In most years, we are coming out of the dry season and entering a period of increased rainfall. This year, however, this has not happened, and we worry that dry conditions could continue into early 2024.”

The Electric Corporation reports that hydro power generation has dropped from supplying 88% of Ecuador’s electric needs in August to 70% in September. In addition to purchases from Colombia, about 4% of electricity is produced by gas and oil generation.

The Energy Ministry has authorized three gas-powered facilities to increase generation capacity but says that even at maximum capacity these can fulfill only about 6% to 7% of the total need.

Ortiz says the government is beginning a public information campaign urging citizens to conserve electricity. “There has been a strong usage increase in recent months, part of the historic trend, and we will inform residents of the emergency we face and ask for their cooperation.”

He adds that it is too early to plan for electric blackouts but acknowledges this may be necessary later this year and in 2024. “We continue to pray for rain, and this is possible even during an El Niño. Each El Niño has different characteristics so making predictions is difficult.”

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