Utility conglomerate Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM) has confirmed that one of eight turbines has come online December 14th, feeding 600 megawatts of electricity into Colombia’s electrical grid. The utility says that the two installed turbines were successfully tested last Tuesday, after preventive evacuations demanded by Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro, of 1,815 families living downstream of the dam in the towns of Briceño, Tarazá, Valdivia and Ituango.
EPM says that during the first 24 hours of operation, turbine unit one generated 6,480 megawatt hours, just over 3.1% of Colombia’s electrical consumption. Only two of the eight turbines have been installed so far, and only one is online. Once all eight are installed and operational, Hidroituango is expected to provide almost 20% of Colombia’s electrical needs.
Hidroituango is the newest of EPM’s 19 hydroelectric dams. The utility also operates 1 wind and one thermoelectric facility, with total capacity of 4,000 megawatts.
“We celebrate this result of the tests that we had full certainty would be satisfactory because here lies the work of the best of the engineering of Colombia that is in EPM, I also thank the communities of Bajo Cauca for the support so that the preventive evacuation was fulfilled within the parameters established by the National Disaster Risk Management Unit,” said EPM General Manager Jorge Andrés Carillo Cardoso.
A tortured path not yet completed
The massive Hidroituango project has a difficult history, and the dam has a long way to go before it can be considered complete. In 2018 heavy rains caused the flow of the Cauca River to collapse one of Hidroituango’s deviation tunnels due to a design flaw. To prevent a catastrophic dam failure, engineers decided to flood the nearly complete turbine chamber, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to the incomplete electrical plant.
Populist Mayor Daniel Quintero ran on a platform of demonizing the construction consortium that was building the dam and politicizing the construction process. The dam has been the center of lawsuits, finger pointing and political intrigue, with the consortium building the hydroelectric generation part of the dam refusing to bid on continuing the project, due to disputes with the mayor-controlled EPM.
Now, the new contractor taking over an unfinished project faces time challenges due in part to the re-bidding process being delayed multiple times. EPM admits that insurers are reluctant to provide coverage to the project going forward. In fact, there was only one entity bidding to finish the project, the Ituango PC – SC Consortium, consisting of Yellow River CO LTD, Power China International Group Limited Colombia Branch, and Schrader Camargo SAS, the latter already having won the contract to install turbines three and four.