More Turmoil As EPM Cancels 3rd Hidroituango Press Conference, Postpones Bid Date 4th Time: Medellin’s Mayor Quintero Blames ‘Rats’
Friday, a press conference due to be held at the 2,400 megawatt, $5 billion USD Hidroituango hydroelectric dam featuring Medellín’s Mayor Daniel Quintero was canceled just hours before it was to take place. This was the third consecutive press conference to discuss the project’s progress that was canceled.
EPM General Manager Jorge Carrillo told Colombian business journal La Republica that the first turbine would start operating July 26 (Mayor Quintero’s birthday). On February 3rd, Mayor Quintero declared that “Unit 1 (seen above, eight months later) is completely finished,” however as of mid- October, the first of eight units still hasn’t been started.
On Thursday, EPM (Empresas Publicas de Medellín), the utility conglomerate owned by the city of Medellín issued a statement that the bidding process for finishing civil works at its would be further delayed by 21 days, until November 4th. Mayor Quintero, who controls EPM’s board of directors, has promoted the possibility of changing contractors for installation of the last four turbines. To date, only two turbines have been installed, and none are yet functional. Construction is ongoing, and installation of electronic control equipment has not been completed.
“This was requested by some bidders who officially write to us that they are preparing the proposal and, in order to present it, they require a few days to finalize their budget and adjust some guarantee and insurance issues for a project of this complexity,” Carrillo told Medellín daily El Colombiano.
The project is already behind, and $1.5 billion USD over budget, due primarily to a near catastrophic collapse of a deviation tunnel in April of 2018 that threatened the unfinished dam superstructure. Engineers responsible for the project had to divert water from the Rio Cauca river into the unfinished turbine chamber to save the project (and prevent a potential deadly disaster), but this damaged the millions of dollars’ worth of power generation machinery already installed, setting the project behind by years, and over a billion dollars.
In 2008, Colombia’s Energy and Gas Regulatory Commission (CREG) entered into a firm contract with EPM to purchase energy from the Hidroituango project beginning in 2018. By not meeting this agreement, a fine was levied against EPM for approximately $18 million USD. If the second turbine unit is not in operation by November 30th of this year, the utility will face additional financial penalties.
Last week, the mayor took to Twitter in frustration, declaring “The rats want Hidroituango to fall. That we run like them, that we change designs, and we do things badly so that our luck equals theirs. Hidroituango will only start when the last test says that everything is good for the project and the people.”
Las ratas quieren que se caiga Hidroituango. Que corramos como ellos, que cambiemos diseños, y hagamos mal las cosas para igualar nuestra suerte a la de ellos. Hidroituango sólo prenderá cuando la última prueba nos diga que todo está bien para el proyecto y para la gente.
— Daniel Quintero Calle (@QuinteroCalle) October 12, 2022
EPM sources close to the project, and somewhat distant from the politics tell Finance Colombia that realistically, there is an 80% chance of the first unit operating by December. The second unit, as seen below, is unlikely to meet the contractual deadline, which will lead to an additional multimillion dollar penalty levied by the Colombian national government against EPM.
Four hours by car north of Medellín, The Hidroituango project is extremely important for Colombia. When finished—the current target is 2026—the modern dam will provide 17% of Colombia’s electrical energy needs. EPM is also investing in social and environmental projects for the surrounding areas and plans to support tourism and sport fishing in the Hidroituango Reservoir.
Photos: Loren Moss