After the signing took place last May, it is expected that next March the state company China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) begins the construction of the closure of the northern transmission ring, a 500 kV line that will link Tacuarembo with Salto. It is a million dollar investment and key to the national interconnection system.
In dialogue with The Observer, the president of UTE, Silvia Emaldi, explained that in addition to the technical meetings with Chinese experts who are already in the country, there are monthly coordination and follow-up meetings that she herself is leading. According to her account, the winning company is already manufacturing some of the supplies that will be needed, such as towers and transformers, for example, and that will begin to arrive in the country soon to start up the civil works.
The project, which will require almost three years of work and is expected to be operational in January 2025, will be developed through a financial trust constituted by a joint venture, with República Afisa as trustee, and has a total cost of about US$207 million. . 15% of the capital (US$ 35 million) will come directly from UTE’s cash. While it is planned to make an issue of Negotiable Obligations in Indexed Units (UI) for the equivalent of $85 million. This operation awaits the authorization of the Central Bank (BCU) and it is estimated that it could materialize in the course of March.
The remaining US$ 87 million will come from the financing granted by IDB Invest, a member of the IDB group. One peculiarity is that with this project, IDB Invest will launch in Uruguay the first certificate for green transmission lines worldwide. A green transmission line is an energy transport structure that comes from renewable sources, in this case wind, hydro, solar, and biomass. The certificate evaluates the transmission lines according to their environmental impacts and their contribution to mitigating climate change.
The work of the ring
The high voltage line is made up of two sections: one that will go from Tacuarembo and down to Chamberlain near Paso de los Toros; and another section between Chamberlain and Salto Grande. Its route will cover a distance of approximately 365 kilometers.
The two sections will be connected through the station to be built in that locality of Tacuarembó. Likewise, the Chamberlain substation will be connected to lines that will allow the link with the new UPM plant, which, in addition to producing cellulose, will generate renewable energy and will inject part of what is generated into the National Electric System as of 2025. Also included are two 150 kV lines that will connect the Chamberlain station with the existing lines between Rincón del Bonete and the Palmatir Wind Farm. The project complements the transmission line that already exists between Melo and Tacuarembó
How important is the closure of the ring? A transmission network can be radial or ring-shaped. In a radial network, electrical energy has only one path to reach its destination. In a ring there are at least two paths through which energy travels, so if there is a fault in one path, the other remains and the user does not suffer interruption. Its realization seeks first to reduce the risks of interruptions in the service, and also to increase the possibilities of regional exchange.
It will be the largest infrastructure work carried out in the country by a Chinese company to date. When the project was awarded last year after an international tender, the local companies that had participated in the call raised doubts. One of the points that caught the attention was the prices handled by the winner. The Chinese state-owned CMEC submitted an offer US$30 million lower than that of the Spanish-Uruguayan consortium Elecnor-Saceem, which finished in second place.
Asked about this point, Emaldi reiterated that the firm “You have to fulfill the contract with what is requested and with the prices offered. That has always been clear.” as he knew The Observerthe Chinese company is in negotiations with local companies in order to meet a key requirement, that 80% of the workforce is of national origin. The work will employ around 1,000 people. If the local labor requirement is not met, “high” penalties are foreseen on the contract price.