PAUTE, Ecuador – Alarmingly low water levels at the hydroelectric power station in this southern Ecuadorian city are to blame for recurrent blackouts in the Andean nation over the past week, authorities say.
The reservoir water level at the dam on the Paute River, one of Ecuador’s largest, stood at 1,968 meters (6,450 feet) above sea level on Tuesday, compared with an average level of 1,991 meters and and a minimum level of 1,965 meters.
This 25-year-old facility meets approximately 40 percent of Ecuador’s total power needs, but at present only two of its 10 turbines are in operation and cannot guarantee more than 200 MW of electricity between them.
“I’d never seen this so empty,” said one of the employees who accompanied reporters on a quick tour of the state-owned plant’s installations.
Paute can supply up to 20,000 MW per hour under normal conditions, but present output has fallen to just 4,000-5,000 MW per hour amid a severe drought.
Low rainfall amounts began causing alarm in September, traditionally a rainy month in Ecuador, and concerns grew further when the drought continued into October.
Residents of Quito, Guayaquil and other cities were hit with surprise nationwide blackouts last Thursday, while the government has called on citizens to reduce consumption as it seeks ways of mitigating the energy crisis.
Just a few miles from Paute, work is continuing on the new Mazar dam “to increase power generation at the Paute plant,” National Electricity Council Chairman Fernando Izquierdo said, though he added that production at Mazar would not start until next April.
Although drought conditions are expected to persist until December, an optimistic Izquierdo said expectations are for the country’s energy supply to increase next week. However, he still urged consumers to continue to conserve energy.
In that sense, he predicted that the current electricity rationing program – which includes power cuts of roughly four hours a day – could be reduced in half beginning next week.
A key factor in the improved outlook is a possible deal to import 1,200 MW per hour from northern Peru to meet demand in the southern Ecuadorian province of El Oro, Izquierdo said.
Colombia’s contribution will be smaller since that country is also suffering from drought conditions and, in a best case scenario, could offer Ecuador some 450 MW per hour. EFE