The first power generation plant based on liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Central America, owned by a subsidiary of the US AES and with a cost of 1.15 billion dollars, was inaugurated today Friday in Panama.
The opening ceremony was attended by Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela; the assistant secretary of fossil energy of the USA, Steven Winberg; as well as senior managers of AES, according to the company’s information and the US Embassy in Panama.
The plant, with an installed capacity of 381 megawatts, began months ago "successful tests, confirming that everything is almost ready for its inauguration," said last May the president of AES in Panama, Miguel Bolinaga.
"AES Colón will help position Panama as a natural gas distribution hub, adding an important infrastructure, such as the terminal and the storage tank, to the logistical advantages of land and sea transport that the country already offers due to its geographical position," said the senior executive.
The company has said the first stage of the project is the power generation plant, inaugurated this Friday. The first natural gas-based power generation plant and the first liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminal in Central America, will start distributing in the region as of September 2019 and which aims to supply 25 percent of the potential market.
"Panama will become an electric power hub and also an exporter of liquefied natural gas," AES CEO Andrés Gluski said today. AES is a US company that has built this 1.15 billion dollar megaproject and an installed capacity of 381 megawatts, located in the Caribbean city of Colón.
The second stage is the storage tank for liquefied natural gas of 180,000 cubic meters, "which will start operations in the middle of next year and is currently 82 percent complete," AES said last May.
The AES Colón plant will receive ships with GLN from the United States, which thanks to the new locks can now cross the Panama Canal, and will supply the region with this fuel when the construction of a 180,000 cubic meter tank is completed in September next year, he explained.
"This project is a demonstration of the benefits of the expansion of the Panama Canal, because in the future the ships will be supplied with natural gas as an energy source," said Gluski.
AES Colón said 75 percent of the LNG storage tank capacity of the project will be available for third-party use and the remaining 25 percent will be used for the generation plant.
The new Canal locks, inaugurated in June 2016, were built with ships with dimensions such as LNG, which do not fit through the old locks, and this segment already represents 10 percent of the transits due to their widening, according to official data.
A particular feature of the storage tank is that it will allow the load with gas of trucks and small boats, helping fuel to reach any corner of Central America.
"This is the first time this has happened in America," said Juan Ignacio Rubiolo, regional president of AES for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
Until the storage tank is built, the plant will operate with a vessel, which will be changed approximately every 45 days.
"Today a great regional desire is fulfilled. Central America was one of the few regions that did not have this fuel, which is cheaper, cleaner and more stable (...) Many businesses will be developed now thanks to the gas," he added.
AES Colón said during the construction process, the project generated more than 2,500 direct and indirect jobs in the province of Colón, on the Caribbean coast of Panama and about 80 kilometers from the capital.
AES Panama is a mixed capital company in which the Panamanian state monopolizes 50.5 percent of the share capital.
The Panamanian State has launched a diversification plan for the energy matrix that has included natural gas as a new source, supplementary to water, which is currently a source of more than 50 percent of the energy produced in Panama, and hydrocarbons such as bunker and diesel (40 percent).
LNG, which is natural gas that has been processed to be transported in liquid form, is more friendly to the environment than the rest of hydrocarbons.
Only in Panama, the entry into operation of this LNG plant will cause a reduction of 4 million tons in carbon dioxide emissions, according to the US company.
The gas plant will also diversify and strengthen the energy matrix of Panama, which is highly dependent on hydroelectric energy and oil derivatives, and will lower thermal energy, said the global CEO of AES.
"If there is a drought in Panama, we will have a source of thermal energy at a stable price, and if there is any disruption in the oil market, natural gas is not affected," he said.
The plant is a private investment project that was put out to tender in August 2015 and was jointly built by the US company AES and the Panamanian company Inversiones Bahía.