Power cuts could extend through February, Energy Ministry says; El Niño rains are late in arriving

Dec 8, 2023 | 0 comments

Electricity blackouts could be extended through February 2024, says Energy Minister Andrea Arrobo. “We hope this is not necessary, but it is important that we are honest with the public and that people understand the severity of the situation,” she said.

Arrobo added that statements by the outgoing government that blackouts would end in mid-December were premature and based on assumptions that have failed to materialize.

“There was a big misunderstanding about an agreement former president [Guillermo] Lasso thought he had made with the Colombian government, and this is costing Ecuador a great deal of money,” she said. “He believed President [Gustavo] Petro had agreed to allow us to pay for increased electricity deliveries in kind, by feeding electricity back into the Colombian power grid sometime in 2024, but this was not agreed to the electricity providers in Colombia, which are private companies. As a result, we are paying very high fees for incoming transfers.”

Thousands of Cuencanos gathered in the historic district Thursday night for the lighting of Christmas candles at Santo Domingo Plaza and two other locations. In addition, fireworks “castles” were ignited in two city plazas.

Arrobo is also blaming the Lasso government for poor planning. “They knew about maintenance problems within the system months before the drought began and were slow to act,” she says. “Many of our plants urgently need upgrades and repairs, which involves shutting down generation, but there was little urgency to move this forward. Now, at the worst possible time, we need to take care of the problems at our two largest facilities, at Coca Coda Sinclair and at the Rio Paute complex.”

The Energy Ministry continues to pursue plans to install additional thermal generation plants but there have been delays in the contracting process, Arrobo says.

In addition to maintenance issues, little was done by the previous government to encourage the public to reduce usage, according to Arrobo. “They put out some announcements on social media but did very little to provide information necessary to achieve energy savings from customers,” she said. “Now, we are beginning a comprehensive information campaign to do what should have happened two or three months ago.”

Arrobo said the Energy Ministry still hopes to suspend blackouts from December 15 or 16 until January 2 but says the plan is subject to change. “Since the first of the week, dry weather has returned to the Rio Coca and Rio Paute areas, which means reservoir levels are dropping again. We are keeping a close watch and will inform the public of changes to the plans.”

El Niño rains are late in arriving to the coast
Although heavy El Niño rains are late arriving in Ecuador’s coastal region, they are still on the way, forecasters say. “We forecast that flooding rains would arrive in late November but we only experienced moderate, seasonal showers,” says Luis Fernando Morales, deputy commander of the navy’s Oceanographic and Antarctic Institute (Inocar). “This does not mean, however, that El Niño is weaker than predicted. This a strong event and all elements remain in place for intense rains continuing through April and possibly May.”

Morales says offshore Pacific Ocean water temperatures remain two to three degrees above normal and land temperatures in coastal cities are unseasonably warm. The morning temperatures in Guayaquil have averaged 23 degrees since the last week in November while daytime temperatures have been 35 or higher, he says. “These are well above normal and indicate the arrival of El Niño,” says Morales. “Warmer temperatures are fuel for greater rainfall, and I believe we will see this as we move into 2024.”

Oceanographer Franklin Ormaza says the effects of El Niño are already being felt at higher elevations in the sierra and inter-mountain valley. “The drought in this region is a result of the dry conditions and this is the reason we are experiencing electricity rationing,” he said.

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