EPM: Enormous Environmental, Fiscal Benefits Nationally & Locally as Hidroituango Recovery Begins
Medellin-based power giant EPM on September 27 gave journalists a first public tour of the start of recovery work in the damaged machine room of the US$5 billion, 2.4-gigawatt “Hidroituango” hydroelectric project in Antioquia.
Having already reached crucial milestones including completion of the engineered spillway, raising the dam to its final height and draining water from the damaged machine room, EPM will by end-October 2019 open a new highway at the top of the dam — bringing convenient mobility to residents in towns near the dam including the municipality of Ituango, according to the company.
At the same time, the company continues to make progress toward final installation of a second, crucial water-closure gate for the auxiliary diversion tunnel (GAD in Spanish initials), whose collapse last year forced temporary diversion of Cauca River water through the machine room, causing hundreds of millions of dollars of losses due to lost power revenues and infrastructure damages.
Meanwhile, opening of the main access tunnel to the machine room has now been completed, enabling heavy machinery to enter for repair work, according to EPM.
“To date, 80% of the caverns around the machinery, transformers, beacons and adjacent tunnels have been cleared,” according to EPM.
“Civil-works damage to infrastructure has been found in 20% of these inspected areas. As of December 31 of this year, we expect to have 100% of the complex of caves inspected and damages calculated, in order to continue with repairs.”
A nearby technical monitoring center meanwhile enables real-time evaluation of the behavior of the dam and the other works of the project.
“Currently the indicators show that the works and the rock massif [adjacent to the dam] are stable,” according to EPM. “All the typical leaks found in such projects are evaluated permanently and to date all remain within the ranges contemplated in the project design.”
The company continues to expect that initial power production from Hidroituango will start by end-2021, then gradually expand until reaching its full 2.4-gigawatts output capacity by 2024.
According to EPM, among the project’s enormous fiscal and environment benefits include:
Emissions reductions of the order of 4.4 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year — 94% of the goal of Colombia’s entire electricity sector by 2030. “This represents a significant contribution to meeting the goals of Colombia in the commitments of COP21 [Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change],” according to EPM.
“It will deliver about COP$85 billion (US$24.6 million) each year for transfers to Colombia’s regional environmental agencies [such as Corantioquia and Cornare in Antioquia] and 153 municipalities, including those in the area of the dam’s influence, which includes the Cauca River basin.
“Additionally, via regional taxes and other contributions to other entities, the project will generate approximately COP$10 billion (US$2.9 million) per year. During the operational life of the project, resources will be generated of the order of COP$8 trillion (US$2.3 billion).
“Colombia will receive national income taxes of approximately COP$240 billion (US$69 million) annually, which will correspond during the operation of the project in resources for the nation totalling about COP$18 trillion (US$5.2 billion).
“The project includes compensation and recovery of about 19,000 hectares of tropical dry forest and tropical rainforest in the 12 municipalities of the area of influence, which becomes an opportunity for [protection of] biodiversity of the territory.
“Within the framework of the environmental and social management plan and regarding connectivity, about COP$1.9 trillion (US$550 million) have been invested in the 12 municipalities in the area of influence, which has resulted in a valuable contribution to the progress of its inhabitants and to the transformation of a territory that has historically suffered from national government abandonment and violence by of illegal armed groups.”
Once in operation, “the energy supply from the project will allow a reduction close to 30% in the [national] cost of power during its first five years of operation,” according to the company.
In addition, “power generation from Hidroituango — interconnected to the Caribbean coast — will enable a more-than-20% reduction in power costs paid by users of the current thermoelectric power in that region.”
National power reliability also will improve — without causing an increase of global-warming emissions that result from “firm” power plants running on coal, oil or natural gas, the company noted.
Hidroituango has a firm energy output capacity of 5,708 gigawatt-hours per year – “energy that can be produced even in the worst drought in history,” according to EPM, and without any CO2 emissions.
If not for Hidroituango, Colombia otherwise would need to build another750-MW thermal power plant to ensure reliable, 24 hours/day power– with a consequent carbon footprint that would violate Colombia’s commitment to meeting CO2-reduction goals under the COP21 agreement, the company added.
What’s more, because “green” solar or wind power are only intermittent – they don’t work when the sun isn’t shining and when the wind isn’t blowing — Hidroituango’s constant 2.4-gigawatts power capacity is equivalent to installing about 5 gigawatts wind power or 3.8 gigawatts of solar energy, EPM added.