Bolivia will spend about $2.56bn to increase its electricity reserves, expand transmission lines and begin power exports to Argentina, officials have said.

Eduardo Paz, president of the country’s state-owned utility, explained that three thermoelectric plants become available this year: Icona, Ragweed and Santa Barbara in the Cochabamba region in central Bolivia.

He also said technical studies are to be undertaken this year in order to build hydroelectric plants. “One of the plants will be in southwestern Bolivia and in operation in two years,” he added.

Funding is provided by the Central Bank of Bolivia with funds from international reserves that won the South American country in the last decade.

Luis Alberto Sanchez, Bolivia’s Minister of Hydrocarbons and Energy, announced that his country plans to export about 9 GW of electricity to Brazil and Argentina. Moreover, Bolivia and Brazil agreed in July 2015 to establish a binational technical committee to export 8 GW of electricity to Brazil.

Bolivia also plans to export 1 GW to Argentina, generated by thermal power of the Gran Chaco in the south of the country. Bolivia has a domestic consumption of about 1300 MW and the surplus will be sold to neighbouring countries.  

The Bolivian authorities will set the prices for electricity initially exported to northern Argentina.

Both countries agreed to build a 500 kW transmission line linking the town of Yacuiba (Bolivia) with Tartagal (Argentina). The second stage plans to expand the transmission line to Argentina’s Jujuy province.

Bolivia has also planned the construction of the “El Bala” hydroelectric plant in the northern department of La Paz, which is expected to generate between 1600 MW and 4 GW.  

Italian firm Geodata was hired in July of last year to develop the final design for hydroelectric waters of the La Paz and Beni rivers, with access to the Madidi forest reserve.

However, not all Latin American countries have the same momentum in terms of energy sector investment.

The Central American countries, for example, each advance at their own pace and co-operation has stalled. The infrastructure supporting the Regional Electricity Market is limping, and a solution will take at least three more years. The promise to share at least 300 MW of power is stagnating, and countries like Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras use the transmission lines to distribute power within their own borders.  

The situation not only limits the ability to share electricity with other countries but also slows the development of new projects, such as the incorporation of the variable energy (solar and wind) market.

However, the Electric Interconnection System for Central American Countries (SIEPAC), which is the 1800 km line that travels throughout Central America, only has the capacity to cope with half of that power.

All countries, from Guatemala to Panama, pledged in 2011 to create the market for an efficient infrastructure. Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras, however, have failed to provide electricity to the majority of their populations and are lagging compared to Costa Rica’s 96 per cent electrification.

Nicaragua already has a plan with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to strengthen its interconnection.

The IDB has financed more than half of the interconnection, and provides technical support for the project, which is expected to pass the 300 MW mark in 2019.

Image credit: ABB