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Ecuador Fails to Solve Problems at Chinese-built Hydroelectric Plant Coca Codo Sinclair

Ecuador Fails to Solve Problems at Chinese-built Hydroelectric Plant Coca Codo Sinclair

By Mercedes Onofa/Diálogo
January 11, 2022

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Construction of the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric plant in Ecuador’s Napo and Sucumbíos provinces began in July 2010. In November 2016, the plant began operations. It was expected to have a capacity of 1,500 megawatts, and forecast to export power to neighboring countries; however, as of December 17, 2021, it was only producing 500 megawatts, due to problems detected even before operations began.

On September 24, 2021, the Ecuadorian National Assembly’s Oversight Commission initiated a process to determine responsibilities for structural and technical failures in the plant, which China’s Sinohydro Corporation built with a more than $3-billion investment by the Ecuadorian State.

Gonzalo Uquillas, manager at the Electricity Corporation of Ecuador (CELEC, in Spanish), said before the Commission that they will not receive the plant as long as there are defects, since Sinohydro did not comply with the contract. Authorities are most concerned about the thousands of fissures and microcracks detected in the eight distributors that inject pressurized water into the turbines to generate energy. In addition, the structure has impeller and shaft defects, and bolts are missing in some valves, among other issues, said Byron Orozco, deputy manager of the hydroelectric plant, who also appeared before the Commission.

According to Marcelo Reinoso, Coca Codo Sinclair’s business unit manager, the first problems were detected 72 hours after the plant’s inauguration. He added that authorities had found defects in the distributors four years earlier, and he submitted reports to the Commission in which the manufacturing company Harbin — a Chinese subcontractor of Sinohydro — acknowledged that these machines had arrived in the country with thousands of fissures.

Despite undergoing seven welding processes, the fissures in the distributors continue to appear, to the extent that distributor No. 6 is now completely deformed, technicians Vicente San Andrés and Kevin Báez, who were in charge of monitoring them, told the Commission.

Contractor Sinohydro has until the end of 2021 to complete repairs at the hydroelectric plant — a process that began in May. However, due to a lack of solutions and persistent failures five years after operations began, on May 17, 2021, CELEC submitted a petition for international arbitration, currently in progress, to fix at least 7,000 fissures in the turbine distributors, and to have Sinohydro assume the total cost of these repairs and pay reparations to CELEC for damages.

According to Assembly member Fernando Villavicencio, head of the Oversight Commission, replacing these distributors could cost $1.01 billion.