Operator Series: Colombia's Celsia gets serious about solar

By
Tuesday, February 13, 2018

As the Colombian government advances plans to raise the share of non-conventional renewable energy  (NCRE) in the country's power generation mix, Medellín-based group Celsia has made clear its intention to prioritize the segment.

The company, a subsidiary of Grupo Argos, last year announced plans to bring online 250MW of photovoltaic (PV) solar capacity in Colombia and Central America by 2019.

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This marks an abrupt change of direction for Celsia, which until now has been focused almost entirely on hydropower and fossil fuel-fired thermoelectric plants.

According to its website, Celsia's installed capacity currently stands at 2.387GW, of which hydropower comprises 50% of total output, thermopower 48% and wind power 2%.

Its solar launching pad has been the 10MW Yumbo plant (pictured) in Valle del Cauca department, which came online last September following investments of US$11mn.

"Solar energy in Colombia is already a reality, and Celsia has decided to be the pioneer in this field," Celsia CEO Ricardo Sierra said during the official opening of the Yumbo plant.

The company has already installed more than 10 rooftop PV systems and is now looking at larger grid-scale projects.

Of the four projects in its near-term pipeline, three are located in Colombia and one in Panama.

The biggest is the 100MW Valledupar plant earmarked for Cesar department, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

The first phase of the project is due to be completed in the first half of 2019 with initial installed capacity of 60MW. An additional 40MW in the second stage will allow the facility to generate 187GWh/y of electricity for more than 105.000 households, the company said.  

In November, Celsia signed a protocol with local indigenous groups that guarantees education, environmental and social investments associated with the project.

The second largest PV project is the 80MW Chicamocha plant slated for Santander department. According to Celsia, the facility will begin generating electricity in the second half of this year, supplying 129GWh/y to the national grid.

In Panama, the 40MW Chiriquí project is due to be finished in 4Q18, producing 72GWh/y.

Finally, the utility is planning to complete its 8MW Bolívar project in Colombia's north by December. The PV plant is expected to generate 12.7GW/y.

Celsia has yet to provide an investment forecast for the projects.

Hydropower

While Celsia has sharpened its focus on the solar segment, its generation portfolio also includes projects from other sources.

Among them are two hydroelectric plants in Antioquia department.

The largest is the Porvenir II plant, which is expected to boast 352MW of capacity when completed in 2020.

The other is the 19.9MW run-of-the-river San Andrés de Cuerquia facility, slated to start operating this year.

Plan5Caribe

Through its subsidiary Epsa, Celsia is also investing in six transmission projects in Colombia's north.

The company was awarded contracts to build and operate the facilities as part of the government's Plan5Caribe tender program, designed to reinforce power supply to the Atlantic coast.

Total investments in the projects are expected to reach 470bn pesos (US$164mn).

Works include five new substations, 11 substation upgrades, five 110kV distribution lines spanning 50km and 1,060MVA of new transformer capacity.

Financing

Earlier this month Celsia launched the sale of up to 330mn new shares in a bid to raise up to 1.5tn pesos.

Proceeds from the operation will be used to acquire a 14% stake in Epsa, the company said.

Celsia already owns 50.01% of Epsa while Argos itself owns 11.86%.

According to CEO Sierra, the share offer and acquisition will strengthen the company's capital structure and guarantee 2018 investments.

"It will allow us to continue with the growth plans we have in photovoltaic energy distribution projects such as Plan5Caribe, and we will continue to improve the service experience of our customers," he said in an interview with local newspaper Portafolio.