Colombia's electricity woes add to unrest against Petro

  • : Electricity, Oil products
  • 24/04/22

Colombians took the streets of major cities and towns across the nation on Sunday to protest mainly against health, pension and labor changes, but potential power outages are also creating discontent.

Authorities estimated that about 250,000 Colombians marched in widespread protests, sparked by changes in healthcare. Congress in April had rejected President Gustavo Petro's proposals in the sector, and the government the next day seized the two largest private-sector health insurers. Protesting healthcare workers say the government did this to implement changes through a back channel.

"Regulatory noise and risk are likely to remain high amid announcements, proposals, and measures [that do not require congressional approval], aimed at changing the game's rules in strategic sectors," brokerage Credicorp Capital said.

Colombians also protested being on the verge of electricity rationing like that in neighboring Ecuador as hydroelectric reservoirs remain at record-low levels. Several unions and other associations have long warned the Petro administration to take measures to offset the effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon.

Electricity distributors last year called for allowing bills for energy purchased on the spot market to be deferred and for loosening price index rules, among other proposals. The national business council sent at least three letters to the president on the issue. At least nine separate letters calling for preparation to prevent blackouts were sent to the president and ministers. Several actions were only recently implemented.

"There are no risk of electricity rationing in Colombia," former energy minister Irene Velez said in 2023. "We do not understand why some people are interested in generating panic."

Government weather forecasts also overestimated rainfall expected for March, leading hydroelectric plants to use more water in the reservoirs than they otherwise would have, said director of the thermoelectric generation association (Andeg) Alejandro Castaneda.

Reservoir levels stood at 29.5pc today, rising thanks to rains since 19 April, up from 28.75pc on 18 April. Electricity rationing is set to begin when reservoirs drop below 27pc, according to grid operator XM.

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