By Rene Quenallata Paredes
LA PAZ, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) -- In 2016, Bolivia took major steps in its regional energy integration strategy, pursuing new links with Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Peru. These connections were seen in new electrical interconnections, bilateral hydroelectric projects and increased electric energy exports, which will be further consolidated in 2017, said the Minister of Hydrocarbons and Energy, Luiz Alberto Sanchez, this week.
"The energy integration of South America is a strategic matter for Bolivia, which is why our government is working with neighboring countries," he said at a press conference on Thursday.
"We are outlining a new source of income for national development...which will be consolidated in 2017," vowed Sanchez.
The government is committed to Bolivia generating 6,000 megawatts (MW) of electric energy by 2025, the year of Bolivia's bicentennial. It also plans for half of that amount to be devoted to domestic consumption and for the rest to be exported.
The Ministry of Hydrocarbons and Energy and the state energy company, Ende, are rolling out numerous projects to achieve this goal.
In his speech, Sanchez looked back at 2016 as having been a year of great energetic successes.
"We conclude 2016 satisfied with the advances made in energy integration with Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Peru...as well as important steps in historic generation projects such as Rositas, El Bala, Carrizal y Misicuni," he pointed out.
In November, the former minister of hydrocarbons and energy, Alvaro Rios, told Xinhua that Bolivia could be considered as one of the most promising energy generators due to its geographic situation and hydro resources.
"There is great potential to produce energy through the installation of hydroelectric plants," he pointed out.
In terms of regional agreements, Sanchez explained that Bolivia is moving ahead with Brazil "on the consolidation of hydroelectric projects."
He pointed to a number of agreements, including studies for new projects along the Madera river, and a binational committee assessing the potential of hydroelectric plants in Cachuela Esperanza, Rio Madera, El Bala and Rositas, as well as thermo-electric plants.
With Argentina, Sanchez said that a contract has been tabled to export electricity, including the possibility of exporting energy from Yaguacua in southeastern Bolivia to San Juancito in Argentina.
Concerning Peru, Sanchez revealed that both countries recently committing to carrying out studies ahead of implementing the infrastructure needed for electrical interconnection.
Finally, with Paraguay, three agreements were signed in 2016 for joint studies toward electrical interconnection, technical collaboration on solar generation, and the sharing of information and experiences related to international electricity exchanges.
One area which has placed this potential into context is that the Bolivian government believes exporting electricity will bring in more revenue than the sale of natural gas. Bolivia is the largest exporter of natural gas in South America, although its export earnings from hydrocarbons dipped by 39 percent in 2015, as prices dropped.
"2017 will be crucial to close important energy integration agreements with Brazil and Argentina. We are carrying out studies for integration with Paraguay and closing an agreement ahead of studies with Peru," rounded up Sanchez.