Govt admits continued concern over water levels

Friday, October 7, 2011

Water levels across some of Chile's reservoirs are at their lowest since the country's last severe drought in 1998, an issue which is increasingly worrying for the national government, according to energy minister Rodrigo Álvarez.

"It is a worrying subject. Some, though not all of the reservoirs, are at their lowest levels since 1998. We have to study what could happen and find out exactly what our water situation is," the minister told journalists during a conference in Santiago.

Emergency measures such as reduced transmission voltage have been in place across Chile's central SIC grid since February, due to the low water levels. Generation from dams was also restricted in an effort to conserve water for later in the year.

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Despite a recent recovery in water levels and hydro output, the government has maintained the measures until next February, and unseasonably high temperatures and continued below average rainfall have led experts to suggest hydro restrictions are likely to resume early next year.

According to the minster, the country's national energy commission (CNE) is revising the present state of hydro resources, with a report likely to be made in the coming weeks.

"Water and snow levels have been revised by CNE during September. That review has just finished, and we are waiting for the definitive conclusions. In the meantime we are going to be evaluating measures and contingency plans over the coming weeks in case they are necessary," he said.

Hydro output on the SIC early in the year had been at its lowest level since 2008 due to the government restrictions. It has since risen back to normal levels, or around 54.3% of total SIC generation.

If restrictions are resumed, thermo output is likely to increase across the grid, especially from diesel plants which can be quickly reactivated.