Cablegate: Goe Struggling in Face of Energy Crisis


DE RUEHQT #1110/01 3172111
R 132109Z NOV 09



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary. Shrinking reservoirs caused by a delay in the
start of seasonal rains have reduced output of Ecuador's
hydroelectric plants, causing a severe electrical power shortage
and prompting the government to ration electricity usage throughout
the country. The government is negotiating to obtain energy from
Peru, to finalize purchase of around 70 small generators from Cuba,
and is reportedly buying U.S. power generating turbines.
President Correa has laid blame for the current predicament on a
lack of foresight and investment by previous administrations, and
global warming, for which he also blames the standard of living in
the United States. Commercial losses, estimated as high as $20
million per day, are exacerbating Ecuador's economic recession,
putting the government increasingly on the defensive. End Summary.

And Then the Lights Went Out

2. (U) On November 5, for the first time in twelve years, the
GoE began a series of on-going programmed power cuts throughout the
country in response to a severe, nation-wide power shortage. No
warning of a potential energy shortfall was given to the public
prior to the energy cuts, prompting widespread criticism as
families and business scrambled to cope with the loss of
electricity. Local power companies have been posting information
daily on their websites regarding scheduled outages by
neighborhood, but they have not been reliable and outages are
lasting as long as eight hours per day.

3. (U) Despite announcements that the cuts would be targeted on
residential, instead of industrial areas, businesses have been hard
hit. Quito's Chamber of Commerce has estimated the country could
lose as much as $20 million a day as a result of the power
rationing, with commercial output cut by 30-50%. Businesses
complain that a lack of timely, reliable information regarding the
electricity rationing has made it impossible to plan and adjust
operational/employee schedules. Traffic and communication problems
stemming from the power cuts, as well as safety concerns at night,
have also dampened commercial activity.

4. (U) The immediate cause of Ecuador's power shortage is a
drought in the southern province of Azuay which has led to low
water levels in reservoirs that feed the country's hydroelectric
plants. Hydroelectric plants account for about 45% of the
country's installed power generation capacity, but actually supply
most of its energy. In 2008, of the 19,109 Gigawatt-hours of
electricity generated in Ecuador, 59.1% was supplied by hydropower,
and 38.3% from thermal electric power plants. Currently, only
about 834 Megawatts (MW) out of a total of 2056 MW installed
hydroelectric capacity are reported to be operational. The massive
1075 MW Paute hydroelectric power plant in Azuay, which supplied
33% of the nation's power last year, is only operating one of its
ten turbines due to low water levels. The relatively new San
Francisco hydroelectric plant, seized from Brazilian firm Odebrecht
in September 2008 for alleged construction flaws, is currently
operating at only 90 MW of its 230 MW nominal potential capacity.

5. (SBU) To make matters worse, the country's antiquated
thermoelectric plants are running far below maximum capacity.
There is about 2500 MW of thermoelectric power installed in the
country, but only about 1880 MW are connected to the national grid,
the remainder being private generation facilities usually for
industrial purposes. Of the thermoelectric power available for
public use, news reports claim that 500 MW of capacity are totally
off-line, with the rest operating below capacity. Most of these
thermoelectric plants are state-owned, run on fuel oil or diesel,
and have long suffered from a lack of resources for purchasing
replacement parts, fuel and needed maintenance. Noble Energy's 130
MW Machala Power and Duke Energy's 180 MW plants are considered two
of the most efficient thermoelectric plants in the country

6. (U) Last year Ecuador imported around 500 GWh of energy from
Colombia, to supply about 2.5% of the country's total energy needs.
However, imports from Colombia typically vary over the year
depending on demand, and at times have accounted for 5-10 % of
Ecuador's energy supply. The GoE lost this important source of
energy when at the end of September this year, Colombia announced
it would restrict sales of electricity to Ecuador and Venezuela due

to an impending shortage of energy in its domestic market caused by
a lack of rain to fuel its hydroelectric plants (ref A).

GoE Action: Too Little Too Late

7. (U) On November 6, President Correa signed a presidential
decree which established a 60-day "state of exception" for the
electricity sector and outlined general measures to deal with the
crisis, but fell short of a substantive solution to the problem.
Decree 124 allows for the use of public funds to pay for imports of
fuel for thermoelectric plants and calls for the Ministries of
Defense, Transport and Public Works to prioritize the
transportation of fuel to power generation plants. The decree also
calls for the relaxation of government procurement rules to allow
for the timely purchase of goods and services needed to overcome
the emergency. Entities within the public sector which have
generators are obligated to use them, as are private sector firms
with generating capacity. The government has restricted the hours
of operation of nighttime businesses such as bars and discotheques,
limited nighttime public events, and suspended sporting events in
the evening, as well as instituted other energy savings programs.

8. (SBU) According to the Minister of Electricity and Renewable
Resources Esteban Albornoz, daily energy demand in Ecuador is
running about 42,000 Megawatt hours per day (MWh/d) and the country
is experiencing a generation shortfall of about 7,000 MWh/d, or
around 17%. The GoE is scrambling in a number of different
directions to cover the gap. In addition to touting the purchase
of around 70 small generators from Cuba for use in the countryside
(to be delivered in January), the GoE is negotiating the purchase
of electricity from Peru, trying to lease power barges, and a
delegation that traveled to Houston on November 11 is reported to
be purchasing U.S. power generating turbines. There is widespread
expectation that the power shortage will continue in some form
until the end of the year.

9. (U) Once the rains start in earnest the immediate crisis may
fade, but Ecuador will still be facing a tight energy picture
through the next year. The government has 17 energy projects in
various stages of development which will eventually add 1,115 MW of
additional capacity. However, the large-scale projects, such as
the 1500 MW Coca-Codo Sinclair hydroelectric plant and the 487 MW
Sopladora plant are not expected to be operational until 2015 and
2014, respectively, and energy demand has been growing at about 5%
per year. Four hydroelectric projects are currently under
construction: Mazar, Baba, Toachi-Pilaton, and Ocana. The first
to come on-line will be Mazar (February-March 2010) and Baba (end
of 2010), but these will add only 160 MW and 42 MW, respectively.
During his recent trip to Russia, President Correa signed an MOU
for cooperation in the electric sector, more specifically for help
with the construction and purchase of equipment for the
Toachi-Pilaton hydroelectric plant. The GoE is also reportedly
seeking an agreement with Iran for construction of the Quijos-Baeza
and Rio Luis hydroelectric plants to supply a combined 115 MW of
energy by 2014.

10. (SBU) During his weekly address on Saturday, November 7,
President Correa said the country was facing its worst drought in
40 years, and blamed the negligence of past administrations and
global warming -- in part caused by the standard of living in the
United States -- for the country's current energy predicament.
However, analysts in the media have been critical of the government
for not taking preventive measures during its close to three-year
tenure, pointing out that the frail state of the country's power
generating system has been well known for a long time.


11. (SBU) The Correa administration is clearly on the defensive,
and for good reason. Its approval ratings were already dropping
due to a faltering economy, rising unemployment and crime, and
allegations of government corruption. Now the daily electricity
outages, which are an inconvenience affecting all Ecuadorians and
which are exacerbating the country's economic problems, could
further reduce Correa's poll numbers. The government has its spin
machine running full tilt, extolling the Administration's efforts
to deal with the crisis and casting blame on others. However, we
seem to have reached the point where government propaganda is
losing its impact. Coupled with the current, strong opposition to
administration policies from university professors, students and
indigenous groups, the administration is increasingly being called

to account for its policies and actions. The government's
desperate scramble to improve the electricity picture indicates
that it recognizes this political reality.


© Scoop Media

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