Government may renege on promise to end blackouts as drought persists; Paute reservoir level continues to drop

Dec 15, 2009

The government says it may not be able to deliver on its promise to end the rolling electric blackouts after today. In a short statement on Monday, Ecuador’s Electricity Minister Esteban Albornoz said that continuing drought conditions near the country’s largest hydro electric plant at Paute could extend the blackouts. “A month ago the rains near Paute were refilling the reservoir but there has been very little rain there in the past two weeks.” He added that the reservoir, 40 miles northeast of Cuenca, has dropped two meters in the last week.

Officials at the Paute plant say that lower water level not only produces less electricity but increases the danger of mechanical failure due to higher amounts of silt passing through the turbines.

Albornoz said he is working hard to stick to the original plan that he and President Rafael Correa had announced earlier to avoid power cuts during the holiday season. “We are looking for every possible solution so there will be no interruptions.”

Most of the rolling blackouts in Ecuador have been for two to three hours a day, for four to five days of the week.

On Nov. 19, President Rafael Correa said that the country would have no more power outages after Dec. 15 because of the acquisition of turbine power plants from the U.S. and the purchase of power from Peru and Colombia. The statement was supported by Albornoz until last Wednesday when he reiterated that power cuts would end today. Much of the promised generation from Peru and Colombia has not been delivered due to severe drought conditions in those countries.

Editor's note: To determine blackout times in particular Cuenca neighborhoods, customers can go to www.centrosur.com.ec, click on the 'energy saving program' link on the bottom, right-hand side of the homepage, then click the 'enter client code' link and enter the code that appears in the upper right of the electric bill.

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