Colombia puts US$1.1 billion Ituango hydro damages claim on hold

Ituango hydroelectric

Colombia’s comptroller has suspended a multibillion-dollar damages claim for alleged irregularities related to the beleaguered Ituango hydro project. The fiscal watchdog said the decision followed an appeal by former Antioquia planning secretary María Eugenia Ramos, one of those accused of wrongdoing.

“By means of a letter filed by email …. [Ramos] filed a challenge against the intersectoral comptroller, as well as officials of the tax office, the comptroller general of the republic and the attorney general,” the statement reads. “Thus … the suspension of the terms of the process was ordered.”

Last month, the comptroller general ruled in a first instance that 26 individuals and entities –  including contractors and politicians – were financially liable for 4.3 trillion pesos (US$1.14 billion) in losses related to the project. The decision was expected to be ratified in a second instance ruling by December.

In her 13-page appeal, Ramos questioned the impartiality of comptroller general Carlos Felipe Córdoba and attorney general Margarita Cabello while claiming that defendants had not been afforded their legal right to be heard.

The case will now be referred to the council of state, Colombia’s highest administrative tribunal.

In an open letter published earlier this month, local engineers’ association SAI predicted “terrible consequences” if the comptroller’s ruling was ratified. Industry observers have said that such an outcome would leave owner EPM with no option but to cancel Ituango’s existing construction contracts.

EPM says civil works are continuing at the complex in northwestern Antioquia department. On Thursday, the company said the project was 85.3% complete and on track to begin generating electricity from its first two turbines in the second half of 2022. In a press release, EPM said it has begun installing power cables to connect transformers inside the plant’s powerhouse to a 500-kV substation.

Initially budgeted at 11.4 trillion pesos, Ituango was originally due to begin generating electricity in the second half of 2018. In addition to a four-year delay, the complex is estimated to be running more than 6.5 trillion pesos over budget. At full capacity, Ituango is expected to generate 13,500 GWh/y, enough to meet about 17% of Colombia’s electricity demand.

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Elizabeth Ingram is content director for the Hydro Review website and HYDROVISION International. She has more than 17 years of experience with the hydroelectric power industry. Follow her on Twitter @ElizabethIngra4 .

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