Colombia tests new electricity incentives as energy crisis looms

Low water levels near the Guatape hydroelectric plan
Low water levels near the Guatape hydroelectric plan

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n the face of a growing energy crisis, Colombia is hitting wasteful energy use with a steep price tag – and offering a deal to those who save.

On Monday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced new measures to incentivize energy savings, issuing a decree that will temporarily change the way that electric bills are calculated.

“We’re going to reward savings and punish wastefulness,” he said in a statement.

The new plan offers one peso in additional savings for each peso a household manages to save below the average bill.

In other words, if the average electric bill is $100,000 pesos and a family uses only $90,000 worth of energy, their bill will total just $80,000. On the other hand, households and businesses that use more than the average amount of electricity will be charged double for the amount they go over.

In addition to those private sector incentives, all government buildings will shut off power after 6 p.m., starting Monday, and will be required to reduce overall energy consumption by 10 percent monthly.

Large electric consumers will also get new incentives to generate their own power if possible.

“I will personally follow up on these measures every day and give an update on the situation,” said Santos.

But for Tomás González, Colombia’s Minister of Mines and Energy, adapting to the energy crisis was too little, too late. On Monday, González resigned as minister, and President Santos instated María Lorena Gutiérrez as his successor.

González also became on Monday the subject of a formal investigation by the national Attorney General over alleged connections to a firm that won several lucrative government contracts.

Colombia’s energy crisis stems primarily from an overwhelmingly strong El Niño weather pattern, which President Santos referred to recently as the “strongest in history.”

In a country that depends largely on hydroelectric generators to produce electricity, high temperatures and decreased rainfall have pushed energy capacity to the brink.

Further complicating the situation, two major generators went offline in recent weeks, reducing Colombia’s total energy output by more than 10 percent.

Following the loss of those two power plants, then-Minister González reiterated that there wouldn’t be rationing or power cuts, as long as Colombians were prepared to save energy on their own.

According to President Santos, however, that hasn’t happened.

“We Colombians have not saved energy. On the contrary, we consumed 5 percent more in January and February than during the same time period last year,” he said.

But Santos also repeated that rationing and other consequences like blackouts were not expected, assuming that the new plan to incentivize reduced consumption has its intended effect.


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