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Published in general news Written by August 21 2019 0

A new report from Medellin-based think-tank Proantioquia shows that the Medellin metro area and the surrounding Antioquia department must redouble efforts to boost industrial specialization, public education, public health and transport infrastructure in order to meet the challenges of the coming decade.

The report (see: https://www.proantioquia.org.co/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/desafios-y-oportunidades-competitividad.pdf) identifies and examines problems and opportunities in several crucial areas: industrial specialization, people-skills development, environmental protection, economic advancement, specialized education, infrastructure development, public health funding, public security and the “peace process” with guerilla/criminal groups.

As for industrial specialization, the report cites a study by Colombia’s national statistical agency (DANE) indicating that Antioquia had a specialization index rating better than the national average, at 1.07.

But in a separate, related study by Colombia’s national economic planning department (DNP), Antioquia came in eighth place over-all in industrial specialization in 2018 -- better than the 10th place showing in 2017, but still below the rankings of Bolívar, Santander, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Atlantico, Boyaca, and Caldas (see chart, above).

DANE statistics show that 16% of Antioquia’s gross domestic product (“PIB” in Spanish initials) comes from industry – far above the 12% of PIB that industry contributes to Colombia’s economy nationally, the report notes.

Even so, Antioquia lags far behind the 42.7% PIB contributed by industry in China or the 23.4% PIB from industry in Brazil, the report notes.

However, greater promotion of technological innovation could help boost Antioquia’s industrial PIB, the report concludes.

As an example, Medellin’s “Ruta N” technology center could help lead the charge by promoting and sponsoring more high-tech forums such as TEDx Medellin, “Charlas N,” the Start-up Forum and Fair, Innovation Land and others, according to the Proantioquia report.

The Antioquia departmental government and local Chambers of Commerce could help subsidize and organize more such events beyond just Medellin, the report adds.

As for science, technology and innovation (STI) development, the city of Medellin ought to dedicate at least 7% of its annual profits received from public utility EPM for STI partly at Ruta N, according to the report.

Such funds also could go for student scholarships in public schools and local/international university studies, with a special educational focus related to Medellin and Antioquia’s “clusters” of strategic industries including those tied to “global value chains,” according to the report.

Medellin's strategic clusters today include sustainable energy, fashion/textiles, advanced manufacturing, business tourism, digital businesses, health/medical business and sustainable habitats. Beyond Medellin, Antioquian strategic clusters already include coffee, cacao and dairy products, the report notes.

Infrastucture Deficit: Build More Highways

Recent studies by DANE and Colombia’s private-sector Competitiveness Council show just how far behind Antioquia still remains in building crucial transport networks in and through its mountainous terrain for connection to Atlantic and Pacific ports.

As a result, Antioquia ranks 19th among Colombia’s 26 departments in kilometers of primary highway per 100,000 inhabitants, and 14th in secondary highways per 100,000 inhabitants, the report shows.

A related study by Colombia’s national business trade group ANDI (Association Nacional de Empresarios) shows that Colombia’s industries in interior cities including Medellin and Bogota suffer by paying two-to-four-times as much as neighboring Latin American countries to move standard 40-feet-long containers to and from ocean ports.

What’s more, Antioquia ranks a poor 19th among all Colombian departments in average transport costs to-and-from major ports, or 21% higher cost than the national average, the study shows. Antioquia shipping costs recently averaged about US$34 per ton, or US$1,484 per container, versus just US$13.87 per ton in Boyaca, the report shows.

However, the now-under-construction “fourth generation” (4G) highways including Pacifico 1 & 2, Mar 1 & 2, and “Regional Norte” in Antioquia would dramatically reduce logistical costs, the study notes.

Public Health Cost Problem: Savia Salud

Meanwhile, Antioquia faces another huge cost problem: Savia Salud, Colombia’s single-biggest “mixed” public-private health network, which covers most of the poorest populations.

Savia Salud arose from the bankruptcy and collapse of several other subsidized “EPS” networks, which roughly resemble the “HMO” and “PPO” networks in the USA.

As the report notes, far too many people pay little or nothing for ever-more-complex, ever-more-expensive health services in Antioquia.

Colombia’s national government provides billions of dollars of subsidies for the “subsidized” (poorest) patients and the uninsured, while workers and employers help offset some of these costs in the parallel “contributory” EPS system, the report notes. The governments of Medellin and Antioquia pitch-in with yet more subsidies, while the employer-funded Comfama organization attempts to make-up the rest. But between the three organizations, the subsidies still aren’t enough.

Some sort of “capitalization” scheme (such as a partial sale of stock in Savia Salud to some private health-care company) potentially could ease the fiscal crisis, the report adds. Heftier subsidies from the national government also would help. But Colombia’s national government is already running deeply in the red, making massive increases in subsidies highly unlikely.

On the other hand, pioneering efficiency standards as employed by Sura -- Colombia’s leading private-sector EPS -- probably could help cut some of the deficit, according to the report.

Savia Salud has more than 2.2 million people in its network in Antioquia, of which 1.56 million are the poorest “subsidized” patients. Too many of these poorer people have chronic illnesses and demand the costliest medicines and costliest procedures, which they can’t afford in the private health networks. In addition, many poorer patients in rural parts of Antioquia (and elsewhere) that lack nearby, high-tech hospitals travel to Medellin where they contribute to chaotic, overcrowded conditions in local public hospitals, the report notes.

During the year 2017, Savia Salud ran-up a COP$175 billion (US$52 million) debt and had an accumulated negative net worth of COP$453 billion (US$134 million), the report noted.

What’s more, the mainly public Savia Salud “mixed” EPS “runs the high risk of politicization and burocratization given that its partners [including public hospitals] have certain [payment] expectations and [treatment] mandates,” the report notes.

“This is what in part is the experience today of Savia Salud, where there’s no co-responsibility” between the EPS network and health-service providers to rationalize care. “The model of the EPS has been distorted by an excess of political influence,” the report adds.

Education, Labor, Broadband Upgrading

On other key fronts, Colombia needs to invest much more in technical and technological education --  if the country ever hopes to compete better with more-advanced nations, the report notes.

Partly because of a history of relatively lower-quality public education -- which often doesn't prepare people sufficiently for today's higher-tech jobs -- about 45% of Colombia’s work force is in the “informal” sector rather than working for modernized companies and corporations, the report notes.

According to a recent report from Colombia’s Private Council on Competitiveness, Colombia needs to make several labor reforms, including:

1. Reduce the costs of certain mandatory, non-wage benefits.
2. Modernize labor codes to enable greater work-standards flexibilities.
3. Reduce the costs of hiring new workers.
4. Broaden the tax base to include more salaried employees, hence making possible more-competitive corporate tax rates.
5. Update the social-security systems for health and pensions.
6. Create incentives for informal businesses to convert to formal, tax-paying businesses.

As for public education programs, Antioquia is lagging behind many of its Colombian departmental neighbors, especially in the crucial “STEM” rankings for competence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the report notes.

Meanwhile, just over one-third (34.5%) of Antioquia’s students have access to higher education, according to the report. That puts Antioquia below Risaralda (41% access), Norte de Santander (40%), Boyaca (40%), Quindio (39%) and Atlantico (39%), according to the report.

At the other end of the scale, nations that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on average ensure that 73% of students have access to higher education, while Latin America in general has 48% access coverage, according to the report.

For Antioquia to hit the Latin American average, it ought to be offering higher-education coverage to 263,000 students between 17 and 21. But Antioquia was offering such coverage to just over 199,000 students as of 2017, the report shows.

Future development of proposed “digital universities”  would enable more students in rural areas to access university education -- and that would help cut Antioquia’s higher-ed coverage gap, the report notes.

Expanding broadband internet access also would boost educational prospects for students throughout the Antioquia department, the report notes.

Current Antioquia broadband penetration is 16.6% of the department’s population, second ranked in all Colombia -- and way ahead of the 10% penetration average in all of Latin America, according to the report.

However, more-advanced nations have 35% broadband penetration, while Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Puerto Rico have broadband penetration rates between 17% and 27%, according to the report.
For Antioquia to reach Uruguay’s broadband penetration, another 780,000 citizens would need connections, while 1.27 million would need to be added to reach advanced-nation levels, according to the report.

Published in general news Written by July 11 2019 0

The 13th annual “Medellin Como Vamos?”survey (released April 11, 2019) on citizen perceptions of quality-of-life finds that aside from air pollution, certain security issues and worsening traffic mobility, Medellin residents haven’t changed their opinions very much between 2018 and 2017.

According to the survey of 1,514 households in all economic strata, “the satisfaction with Medellín as a place to live [in 2018] was stable in relation to the year 2017, with eight out of ten citizens satisfied.

“The aspects that the people of Medellín ranked as priority for their own quality of life in 2018 were health (at 74%), education (at 51%) and employment (at 51%), the latter falling four percentage points below what was achieved in 2017.”

The face-to-face survey -- taken between September 21 and November 6 -- found that 45% of Medellin households considered that their economic situation was unchanged year-on-year, while another 38% said their economic situation had improved.

As for employment, 40% of Medellín residents surveyed said that it is “not easy to find a job, compared to two out of ten who considered that it is,” according to the survey conducted by Ipsos Napoleón Franco and co-sponsored by Proantioquia, Universidad Eafit, Fundación Corona, Comfama, Comfenalco, Cámara de Comercio de Medellín and daily newspaper El Colombiano.

“In 2018, the self-perception of poverty remained stable at 18% in relation to the year 2017,” according to the report.

“By zones of the city, the central-eastern and the northeastern regions had the highest self-perception of poverty with 23% and 22%, respectively, while the lowest perception was in the southeast with 5%.

“Regarding the perceived inequality in the city during 2018 in Medellin, citizens said that the aspects where there was more unequal access were well-paid employment (50%), quality health care (44%) and quality housing (42%),” according to the report.

As for public education, “the satisfaction of citizens with the education received by children and young people between five and 17 years of age was 71%, eight percentage points lower than in 2017,” the study noted.

Seventy percent of citizens said they were satisfied with cultural offerings in the city, about the same as in 2017. “On the other hand, the satisfaction with the recreational and sports offer in the city was 77%, three percentage points above what was evidenced in 2017,” according to the survey results.

While health care remains the top issue for Medellín residents, “paradoxically, quality health care was designated as the second most unequal area in Medellín, after well-paid employment,” according to the survey.

As for perceptions about security, “during 2018, 41% of the citizens of Medellin said they felt safe in the city, a figure lower than that of 2017 by six percentage points, while 25% said they felt unsafe, five percentage points higher than what was found in 2017,” according to the survey.

“Of the perception of security in their neighborhood, during 2018, 66% of citizens said they felt safe, while 13% said they felt insecure, figures similar to those of 2017.”

As for housing and public-utilities services, “satisfaction with the neighborhood was 81% and for housing it was 82%, without significant differences in any of the cases versus 2017,” according to the survey. “With regard to public services, domestic [natural] gas was the service with the highest proportion of satisfied households, at 94%,” according to the survey.

While 55% of citizens said they were generally satisfied with environmental quality, “air quality continued to be the issue with the lowest level of satisfaction, with just one in ten citizens satisfied,” according to the survey.

As for mobility, “44% of the inhabitants of Medellín considered that their habitual journeys took longer” in 2018 versus 2017, thanks to the continuing, explosive growth of motorcycles and other vehicles causing traffic congestion here, the survey noted.

Published in general news Written by July 11 2019 0

Update: 3 Medellin Airlines Pick Up Routes Left by ADA

Colombia’s airline oversight agency Aeronautica Civil de Colombia (ACC) announced April 5, 2019 that three airlines – Aeroejectivos de Antioquia SA(AASA), Servicios Aéreos Panamericanos S.A.S (Sarpa) and Servicio Aéreo De Capurganá S.A. (Searca) are taking-over the flight routes left by the shut-down Aerolinea de Antioquia (ADA).

According to ACC, AASA will have two weekly flights from Medellin’s downtown Olaya Herrera (EOH) airport to-and-from El Bagre, Acandi and Tolu.

Sarpa will have seven weekly flights to-and-from EOH to Bahía and Quibdó, as well as seven other weekly flights to-and-from EOH to Nuquí, Quibdó and Pereira.

As for Searca, it will offer twice-weekly flights to-and-from EOH and Acandí, three weekly flights to-and-from EOH and El Bagre; seven weekly flights to-and-from EOH and Montelíbano; and two weekly flights to-and-from EOH and Tolú.

The new flight services will “guarantee the connectivity of travelers that move to and from the department of Antioquia that formerly used ADA,” said Aeronautica director Juan Carlos Salazar.

“We will continue working to motivate the entry of other operators that facilitate mobility in this region of the country,” Salazar added.

Published in general news Written by July 11 2019 0

Medellin and its neighboring suburbs expanded “pico y placa” driving restrictions on all conventional combustion-engine cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles to nine hours daily for the week of March 2-9, 2019, because of worsening air pollution.

The only personal transport vehicles exempted from such driving restrictions are electric cars, along with Medellin’s “Metro” electrified railcar system, the expanding “Metrocable” electric-powered aerial tram system, an incipient electric-powered roadway tram system, the upcoming expansion of pure-electric “Metroplus” electric buses this year, and free zero-emissions bicycles at Metro rail stations.

What’s more, Medellin debuted its first all-electric taxicab on March 3 -- right on the heels of the debut of the “Line M” Villa Hermosa-Buenos Aires aerial tram debut February 28.

“Line M,” serving 350,000 people in northeastern districts, is the fifth aerial-tram system now operating in Medellin, with a sixth coming in a few more months.

All these moves are further signs of the upcoming conversion to zero-emissions transport modes for Medellin -- and likely for many other global cities facing air-pollution problems.

On the taxi front, the “Tax Belén” cab company debuted its first BYD all-electric cab this month – exempt from “pico y placa” driving restrictions.

Medellin hopes to see as many as 1,500 electric taxis over the next few years, but the relatively high cost of acquisition compared to conventional gasoline-powered taxis is the key sticking point (see Medellin Herald 09/27/2018)

“Tax Belen, one of the largest taxi companies in Medellín with more than 2,300 cabs, will be in charge of operating public service cars, while BYD will provide after-sales service and will contribute its experience as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of electric vehicles,” according to BYD.

“Fuel savings compared to other combustion vehicles will be approximately 70% and operating costs will be 50% lower than natural-gas or gasoline taxis,” according to BYD.

BYD claims that range-between recharge should be around 400 kilometers and fast-charge stations can recharge the vehicle in 90 minutes.

Published in general news Written by July 11 2019 0

Industrias Estra Full-Year 2018 Profits Improve Year-on-Year

Medellin-based plastic container manufacturer Industrias Estra revealed in a March 28, 2019 filing with Colombia’s Superfinanciera corporate oversight agency that its full-year 2018 net income rose to COP$1.2 billion (US$379,000), up from COP$1 billion (US$316,000) in 2017.

Sales were flat year-on-year, at COP$68.9 billion (US$22 million), while earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) dipped to COP$4.1 billion (US$1.3 million), down from COP$5.1 billion (US$1.6 million) in 2017.

The company’s sales and profits generally followed macroeconomic trends in Colombia during 2018, according to Estra. First-half 2018 sales were depressed by uncertainty over national elections, but consumer and industrial confidence rebounded when moderate-conservative Ivan Duque won the presidency over socialist-populist rival Gustavo Petro.

As a result, Estra’s second-half 2018 sales rose to COP$36.3 billion (US$11.5 million), up from $34.8 billion (US$11 million) in the comparable second-half of 2017.

Export sales were a bright spot for Estra, up 17% year-on-year, “thanks to the opening of new markets” including restoration of free-market policies in neighboring Ecuador -- due to the 2017 election of market-friendly President Lenin Moreno, who replaced vitriolic socialist-populist former President Rafael Correa.

In the Colombian domestic consumer-products market, Estra’s 2018 unit sales were flat year-on-year through its proprietary retail outlets, although average sales ticket grew. While industrial sales dipped 9% year-on-year, second-half 2018 industrial sales improved over the first half, the company added.

Published in general news Written by July 11 2019 0

Bancolombia Unveils No-Extra-Cost, Zero-Emissions Electric-Truck Rental Scheme

Medellin-based multinational banking giant Bancolombia announced March 12, 2019 that it’s now offering companies the opportunity to rent all-electric, zero-emissions delivery trucks in Colombia’s major cities – at the same cost as conventional trucks.

The goal is to put into circulation 1,000 electric trucks over the next three years, replacing diesel- and gasoline-powered trucks that today are causing much of the air pollution in Medellin, Bogota and other major cities, according to Bancolombia’s “Renting Colombia” subsidiary.

Major companies in Colombia including Nutresa, Bimbo, Bavaria, Colombina and Éxito are already testing these electric trucks, in an alliance with Medellin-based electric vehicle marketer Auteco, according to Bancolombia.

The scheme enables both smaller and larger companies to rent rather than buy the trucks, at a cost of operation “equal to that of [trucks] with traditional gasoline or diesel combustion, so in this way overcoming the [initial purchase price] limitation” of electric trucks, according to Bancolombia.

Besides eliminating toxic particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon monoxide (CO) emissions, the electric trucks also slash net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions -- since most of Colombia’s electric power comes from zero-emissions hydroelectric plants.

“Launching the first [nationwide] fleet of electric trucks in Colombia responds to our commitment to do business well and sustainable,” explained Bancolombia president Juan Carlos Mora.

The electric trucks being offered are local delivery trucks rated between three to 10 tons. These are the type of trucks that are the most numerous in Colombia’s biggest cities.

Diesel-powered delivery trucks are so numerous in big cities that they cause 50% more total pollution than dump trucks, 400% more than buses and 500% more than cars, according to Bancolombia.

Hence eliminating such high-polluting vehicles would help cities including Medellin and Bogota to slash pollution that today has forced city officials to enact severe “pico y placa” driving restrictions on vehicles (depending on license-plate numbers), Bancolombia noted.

Switching just 1,000 delivery trucks to zero-emission electric power will slash CO2 emissions by 24,800 tons over three years, equivalent to the CO2-removal work of 1.5 million trees, the company noted.

The latest-generation electric trucks employ new technologies that deliver 40% more power than a conventional diesel- or gasolina-powered truck, according to Auteco.

While an electric truck will consume an anual average of 11,300 kiloWatt-hours of electricity at a total cost of COP$5 million (US$1,590), an equivalent diesel truck would consume 1,200 gallons of diesel fuel and 10 gallons of lube oils, costing a total of COP$12 million (US$3,815), or more than twice as much as the electric truck, Bancolombia noted.

Published in general news Written by July 11 2019 0

BYD Launches Electric-Car Sales Just as Medellin Toughens Air-Pollution Driving Limits

China-based electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer BYD on February 7, 2019 launched sales of zero-emissions EV cars at its first-ever retail showroom in Medellin – simultaneous with the Mayor’s office announcing new driving restrictions on polluting vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICEs) for the entire Medellin metro area.

BYD’s new dealership on Avenida El Poblado opposite the Premium Plaza mall comes on the heel of winning a contract to supply 64 pure electric buses to Medellin’s “Metro” public transit agency later this year (see Medellin Herald on December 29, 2018).

“Medellín is among the places with the greatest potential in Colombia for the development of mobility with electric vehicles,” said Juan Felipe Velásquez, BYD’s commercial director for Antioquia.

“Both the municipal administration and private companies [including EV sellers Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi] have made important bets in the development of sustainable mobility . . . The environmental contingency of the metropolitan area has caused the authorities to focus their efforts on electric vehicle replacement,” he added.

Medellin also aims to expand the fleet of EV taxis, Velasquez said. “This project is very important for us as BYD, so much so that we are structuring two electric-taxi pilot [projects] with different individual public transport administration companies, which will start in a few months,” he said.

Beyond EV cars, buses and taxis, BYD “intends to exploit a high-potential market with last-mile cargo [local delivery vehicles,” according to the company.

Meanwhile, Medellin and the regional planning agency (Area Metropolitana del Valle de Aburra, AMVA) jointly announced greater “pico y placa” restricions on more ICE vehicles over more days -- including six days/week (rather than the current five) and hitting six of the nine digits on license plates, rather than just the current four of the nine digits.

The existing “pico y placa” vehicle-driving restrictions alternately ban circulation of vehicles depending upon the final digits of license plates, during morning and afternoon rush-hours.

Under the new scheme – debuting February 18 and lasting until at least March 30 – older, higher-polluting vehicles will face even greater hours-of-operation restrictions, from 5 am to 8:30 am, and then from 4:30 pm to 9 pm Monday through Saturday, according to AMVA.

Published in general news Written by February 08 2019 0

China-based electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer BYD on February 7 launched sales of zero-emissions EV cars at its first-ever retail showroom in Medellin – simultaneous with the Mayor’s office announcing new driving restrictions on polluting vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICEs) for the entire Medellin metro area.

BYD’s new dealership on Avenida El Poblado opposite the Premium Plaza mall comes on the heels of winning a contract to supply 64 pure electric buses to Medellin’s “Metro” public transit agency later this year (see Medellin Herald on December 29, 2018). It's a further sign that Medellin aims to slash air pollution by replacing ICE vehicles with EVs of all types, including cars, motorcycles, buses,  taxis, local-delivery vehicles, rail transit, cable-cars and trams.

“Medellín is among the places with the greatest potential in Colombia for the development of mobility with electric vehicles,” said Juan Felipe Velásquez, BYD’s commercial director for Antioquia.

“Both the municipal administration and private companies [including EV sellers Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi] have made important bets in the development of sustainable mobility . . . The environmental [air-pollution] contingency of the metropolitan area has caused the authorities to focus their efforts on electric vehicle replacement,” he added.

Medellin also aims to expand the fleet of EV taxis, Velasquez said. “This project is very important for us as BYD, so much so that we are structuring two electric-taxi pilot [projects] with different individual public transport administration companies, which will start in a few months,” he said.

Beyond EV cars, buses and taxis, BYD “intends to exploit a high-potential market with last-mile cargo [local delivery] vehicles,” according to the company.

Meanwhile, Medellin and the regional planning agency (Area Metropolitana del Valle de Aburra, AMVA) on February 7 jointly announced greater “pico y placa” restricions on more ICE vehicles over more days -- including six days/week (rather than the current five) and sequentially hitting six of the last nine digits on license plates each day, rather than just the current four of the nine digits.

The existing “pico y placa” vehicle-driving restrictions alternately ban circulation of vehicles -- depending upon the final digits of license plates -- during morning and afternoon rush-hours. However, zero-emissions EVs are exempt from such driving restrictions.

Under the new scheme – debuting February 18 and lasting until at least March 30, the typical "dry" season for air-pollution alerts – older, higher-polluting vehicles will face even greater hours-of-operation restrictions, from 5 am to 8:30 am, and then from 4:30 pm to 9 pm Monday through Saturday, according to AMVA.

Published in general news Written by February 05 2019 0

Medellin-based multinational electric power giant EPM announced Tuesday, February 5, that it successfully shut the last water-intake tunnel at its giant Hidroituango hydroelectric dam, hence accelerating the planned diversion of the Cauca River over the dam’s engineered spillway by several weeks – and also enabling repairs to begin.

Temporarily, the decision means that downstream fish populations will be affected for about three days -- because the Cauca River still requires three more days to rise to the level of the engineered spillway at the top of the dam.

In a press conference, EPM general manager Jorge Londoño de la Cuesta explained that technical experts advised EPM to accelerate the closure of the water-intake tunnels in order to avoid a possible collapse of those tunnels.

Rising pressure differences between the water behind the dam and the water entering the tunnels would increase with rising water levels, threatening a potential tunnel collapse, the experts warned. Such a possible collapse would have prevented EPM from controlling water levels through the machine room, potentially wrecking the US$5 billion project and possibly endangering downstream populations.

As the last intake-gate was shut to the water tunnel, downstream water flows below the dam started falling drastically – to an estimated 35 cubic meters per second, down from around 450 cubic meters per second in recent days.

But flows should return to “summer-season” normal by next weekend (February 8-9) when the dam spillway outflow gradually restores normal Cauca River levels in the downstream area, he explained.

To reduce temporary impact on fish, EPM hired and trained 700 local fishermen to help rescue fish trapped in pools as water flow diminishes, he added.

In addition, EPM released extra water from its Porce hydroelectric dam system near Guatape, Antioquia, in order to boost river flows where the Nechi River meets the Cauca River at the town of Nechi, Antioquia, downstream from Hidroituango.

Cauca River flows have been decreasing in recent weeks because of the typically low-rainfall “summer season” of February and March. That decline in flow prompted EPM to hire local people to help rescue some 32,000 fish recently trapped in pools downstream of the dam.

Now that the final water-intake gate at the dam is closed, EPM personnel can start the process of entering the machine room, which has been flooded since last May because of an unexpected collapse in a nearby diversion tunnel. Since the dam and the spillway weren’t yet finished last year, EPM made an emergency decision to divert Cauca River water through the machine room, in order to avoid a dam collapse.

Since then, EPM and its engineering partners discovered a big hole that had opened between water-intake tunnels one and two, which lead to the machine room. The hole probably developed because of water erosion -- caused by the emergency evacuation of river water through the machine-room tunnels, according to EPM.

Now, EPM not only will have to repair damages to the machine room, but also to the water-intake tunnels damaged by erosion over the past 10 months.

The company still hopes to start-up the 2.4-gigawatt Hidroituango project by year-end 2021, which eventually would supply fully 17% of Colombia’s entire national electricity demand.

But EPM can’t be certain of the start-up schedule until it has the opportunity to inspect the damages in the machine room and the tunnels.

The city of Medellin gets nearly 25% of its entire annual budget from city-owned EPM. So, restoration and recovery of the Hidroituango project will be crucial to city finances in the coming decades.

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About Medellin Herald

Medellin Herald is a locally produced, English-language news and advisory service uniquely focused upon a more-mature audience of visitors, investors, conference and trade-show attendees, property buyers, expats, retirees, volunteers and nature lovers.

U.S. native Roberto Peckham, who founded Medellin Herald in 2015, has been residing in metro Medellin since 2005 and has traveled regularly and extensively throughout Colombia since 1981.

Medellin Herald welcomes your editorial contributions, comments and story-idea suggestions. Send us a message using the "contact" section.

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