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Luis Miguel Fernández Zaher

COLOMBIA - Energy & Mining

Thermally conscious



Luis Miguel Fernández Zaher has over 19 years of experience in multinational and national companies operating in the electricity generating sector. He has been the CEO of Termocandelaria Power LTD (TPL) and the President of TEBSA since 2010, where he has led the value creation transition of both entities from a public-private association (PPA) platform to a fully private operation. In 2019, he led the company’s debut in the debt capital markets with a USD410-million bond issuance.

TEBSA, as Colombia's biggest thermal generator and gas consumer, is a key player in developing the Caribbean region's energy resources.

TEBSA is Colombia’s largest consumer of natural gas and the biggest thermal plant in the electrical system. Can you tell us about the scale and size of TEBSA’s operations and the growth you saw in 2019?
TEBSA is the biggest thermal generator in the Colombian electricity system and the largest single gas consumer in the country. We have the capacity to produce almost 10% of Colombia’s total energy demand and nearly 35% of the total energy demand of the Caribbean coast. Colombia’s electrical system is composed of approximately 70% hydro and 30% thermal capacity. During the last El Niño, Colombia’s thermal capacity produced 55% of the country’s total energy demand, demonstrating the importance of thermal capacity to respond to different environmental challenges. Additionally, TEBSA is located in the Caribbean region, which has the highest energy consumption growth rate and energy demand in the country. In 2018, Colombia’s energy demand grew by 3.3% compared to 5.5% on the Caribbean coast. Due to the area’s contribution to the growth of the economy, TEBSA is essential to supporting the growth of not just the Caribbean coast, but the country as a whole, by securing access to at least 2,000MW of gas-fired energy.

Aside from increasing supply through importation, is TEBSA promoting increased local production of natural gas in Colombia?
We also currently have medium-term local gas supply contracts that have been contributors to the development of new gas fields located on Colombia’s Atlantic Coast. They have contributed significantly to expanding the local gas transportation capacity to connect those new fields to the grid. New fields and gas pipelines can only be developed if there is significant gas demand, so TEBSA is essential to the growth of Colombia’s local supply and transportation capability.

How is TEBSA promoting Colombia’s shift to renewable energy sources?
We need to bear in mind that Colombia’s energy generation matrix is one of the cleanest in the world. This is different from other countries, such as the US or Germany, where you find a higher proportion of thermal gas and coal-fired generation than renewables. The government has sent a clear signal to develop renewable energy in Colombia, and we see renewables and efficient gas-fired technology as complementary energy sources. Renewables have posed significant challenges, given the natural intermittent renewable production. With today’s existing technology, we still cannot store significant amounts of energy. If renewables are to penetrate Colombia’s energy matrix, they need efficient assets like ours to continue supporting the country’s energy grid at attractive price levels.

Royal Vopak acquired a 49% equity stake in the Sociedad Portuaria el Cayao (SPEC) LNG import facility partnership and operation. What does this say about the international attention currently focused on Colombia’s natural gas industry?
Because Colombia has a regasification facility, we are on the map for the international energy markets. Given the diminishing local gas production capability until Colombia develops additional local gas supply capabilities, we will need to connect to and supply our needs from these international markets. Royal Vopak is an internationally renowned player, and it is a positive sign that international markets are interested in developing meaningful relationships with Colombia.

What are TEBSA’s main goals and milestones for 2019-2020?
In terms of 2019, TEBSA is currently undergoing an extensive maintenance program for all its units, including completely overhauling one of its steam turbines. We are also finalizing that same process for two gas turbines, where we are implementing a new state-of-the-art control system. We are currently seeing lower-than-normal inflows of water into Colombia’s reservoirs, so our plant has been providing a significant amount of energy not only to the Caribbean region, but also to the country’s interior. In 2020, we will continue with our schedule of overhauling seven gas turbines, with two in 2020 and three the following year.



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