ICE Garabito thermal generating plant, located in Montes de Oro, Puntarenas

QCOSTARICA – Last month, Costa Rica made the headlines worldwide for managing to produce all of its electricity from renewables, the state-owned Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE), avoiding successfully using fossil fuels (the most expensive and polluting source) to generate electricity between December 22, 2014 and March 17, 2015.

During the period, for 86 days, the country’s electrical generation was 100% by clean resources.

However, on March 17, 2015, ICE fired up its thermal plants to generate electricity, despite its four reservoirs having levels higher than projected for the season.

Thus, on March 18, the “100% renewable” record came to an end.

Juan Quesada, head of the Energy at the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos (Aresep) – regulating authority, said since then (March 18) the country relies “constantly” on its thermal plants, generating 33,400 megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity, the majority (96.8%) at the Garabito plant, the most efficient of ICE’s eight thermal plants.

How does this affect the consumer? The use of fossil fuel to generate electricity could cause an increase in electricity rates in the upcoming adjustment on July 1.

This quarterly adjustments takes into account how much fuel (bunker and diesel) ICE purchases to operate its thermal plants.

For example, not having to rely on thermal generation during the last quarter, the April 1 adjustment led to a drop of 15% in electricity rates.

So, why go back to thermal?

Luis Pacheco, a manager at ICE, says “renewable resources are insufficient”.

Pacheco told La Nacion, “we use all renewable resources as much as possible; but at the moment they become insufficient to meet the demand, we have to use thermal.”

But Pacheco’s statements are being questioned.

For instance, by Sunday the water levels at the four hydro-electric generating plant reservoirs (Arenal, Cachi, Angostura and Pirrís) were higher than projected.

At the Arenal, the water level was measured at 541.66 meters above sea level, the projected is 535.33. At the Cachi, the level is 986.10, while 982.70 is projected; at Angostura the level is 575.93 instead of 573.50, and at the Pirris the level is about two meters above projections.

Despite the firing up of the thermal plants, ICE promises that this year, spending on fuel will drop by 83% as compared to last year, resulting in a savings of ¢94 billion colones.

But, we must take into account that 2014 was a critical year, the severe droughts in the first quarter led ICE to a historical record in thermal generation.


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