Wasted energy because of bad infrastructure

By Marijulia Pujol Lloyd

Electric energy is the engine for a country’s development and Panama is investing in green energy to cut down its dependency on fossil fuel. For that reason, wind farms are becoming a good proposition and certain parts of the country where wind tunnels are formed like Penonome and Anton, in the Cocle; Santa Fe in Veraguas and the north of the Colón province have the ideal conditions to create them.

Cocle province, specifically an area called “Los Llanos de Cocle” near Penonome City, has several windfarms due to the strong Elysian winds that are prevalent between January and April. One of them is “Laudato Si”, which has 86 wind towers generating power since inauguration in March 2016 more than one million of megawatts per hour (MWH). Just in the first four months of this year it produced enough energy to satisfy the needs of 160,000 homes and businesses in the country.

The wind farm “Laudato Si”.

The wind farm “Laudato Si”.

According to Jamilette Guerrero, “Laudato Si” General Manager, wind farms contribute to 6% of the total energy produced in the country, the solar ones 1%, while hydroelectric plants generate 60% of the electricity and the other 32% by thermoelectric plants.

“The country depends on those four sectors to satisfy its energetic needs. The solar farms can only work during the day, at night they do not produce anything. The wind farms are great when wind is blowing, the hydroelectric plants are good when the levels of the river are high and therefore thermoelectric plants are a necessity,” said Guerrero.

Bahia Las Minas thermoelectric plant.

Bahia Las Minas thermoelectric plant.

Harold Hernández, “Laudato Si” Commercial Manager said that “electricity tariff” has many components, but what makes the cost of electricity high in Panama is the price of fuel for the thermoelectric plants, which is currently subsidized by the national government. “That is one of the reasons why Panama is trying to cut down its dependency on fossil fuels, which also pollute the environment,” explains Hernández.

During its first year of operation, “Laudato Si” stopped the emission of more than 450,000 tons of carbon monoxide into the environment, 1,000 tons of nitrogen oxide and 500 tons of sulphur dioxide. Unlike thermoelectric plants, wind farms do not need fossil fuels which means that 900,000 barrels of oil a year will not be used representing a saving of $88 million in operation costs for the power (electricity) system.

“Laudato Si” is operated by UEP Penonomé II S.A, a subsidiary of InterEnergy Holdings, a company founded by Rolando Gonzalez Bunster, an Argentinean entrepreneur who believes that green energy is the future. The farm cost $436 million and other partners in this venture are Portland Private Equity, a private capital fund founded by the Jamaican Canadian businessman, Michael Lee Chin and the World Bank.

The wind farm, “Laudato Si”, which is the biggest in Central America, has a contract to sell the energy produced to one of the distribution companies, which is instantly transmitted to power grid operated by Empresa de Transmisión Eléctrica Panameña (ETESA) the government owned company that operates the grid). Because of its location in Cocle “Laudato Si” does not have any problem sending the energy produced to the grid to be instantly used.

Hidroelectric plant Changuinola I.

Hidroelectric plant Changuinola I.

However, in the Aguadulce area also in Cocle province, where other transmission lines are located there are not enough of them to receive all the energy produced by the hydroelectric plants of the Chiriqui and Bocas del Toro provinces. This bottle neck contributes to the high price of the electricity in Panama.

The same is happening in Colón where AES Panama is building a liquid natural gas (LNG) electricity generator plant, capable to produce 381 megawatts which should be ready in 2018. LNG plants produced fewer pollutants and the cost of producing energy is less than the thermoelectric plant, which means cheaper energy; but the transmission lines in Colón cannot access the national power grid. AES Panama has decided to sell the electricity they produced to other countries in Central America.

Meanwhile, the National Public Services Authority, the ombudsman for this sector, has asked ETESA to update power lines and transformers, which have exploded and ultimately caused a total blackout in Panama City last March. The governmental will have to invest millions of dollars to make the network fit for purpose.

At the end the only losers are the consumers who have to pay costly electricity bills, when the country has cleaner and cheaper ways to produce energy, than the localized thermoelectric plant.

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