Bolivia's installed electricity capacity by the mid-1980s had reached 566 megawatts, and government plans in the late 1980s projected growth in domestic demand and significant annual investment in expanding domestic supply into the 1990s. Hydroelectric sources provided approximately 62 percent of the supply of electricity, followed by thermal sources with 25 percent and diesel with 13 percent. The National Electrification Institute (Instituto Nacional de Electrificación), a branch of the Ministry of Energy and Hydrocarbons, provided diesel generators to those outside major cities and beyond the reach of the interconnected electricity system, which linked most major cities for the first time in the 1980s. The National Electricity Company (Empresa Nacional de Electricidad--ENDE), also part of the Ministry of Energy and Hydrocarbons, controlled 80 percent of the country's electricity capacity, including five hydroelectric plants. Other producers of electricity included the United States-owned Bolivia Electricity Company (Compañía Boliviana de Energía Eléctrica), serving La Paz and Oruro; the Cochabamba Light and Power Company (Empresa de Luz y Fuerza Eléctrica de Cochabamba); the Rural Electricity Cooperative (Cooperativa Rural de Electrificación), working in rural areas; and Comibol, which generated much of its own electricity, primarily from charcoal and firewood. ENDE established electricity rates, which were often subject to large increases. ENDE, as a consequence of the NPE, negotiated electricity rates with private companies and local city councils. Access to electricity by private citizens was growing in the late 1980s and was available to over 72 percent of urban dwellers. Rural citizens, however, lagged well behind; only about 10 percent had such access, low even by Latin American standards.
The quality of electricity transmission was relatively good and generally reliable in larger cities. Electricity operated on a 50-cycle system, 120 and 220 volts in La Paz, and 220 volts in other major cities. To improve quality further and expand installed capacity, the government embarked in 1988 on a US$100- million investment project on electricity, including new generation plants, gas turbines, and transmission lines. With funding from the World Bank and the Andean Common Market's Andean Development Corporation, Bolivia was attempting to improve access to electricity for rural communities.
The country's plans to tap its vast hydroelectric potential were less clear. In the late 1980s, Bolivia's hydroelectricity capacity of approximately 300 megawatts represented only 2 percent of the 18,000-megawatt potential, estimated by engineering studies performed in the 1970s and 1980s. Although small- and medium-sized hydroelectric projects were under way through regional or local governments, any large-scale projects were dependent on negotiations in progress with Brazil over the price for natural gas exports.
Policymakers also considered alternative energy resources, such as geothermal, coal, solar, wind, and biomass. Geothermal potential was positive with 350-megawatt capacity, including a possible plant at Sol de Mañana in Laguna Colorada. Commercially exploitable coal resources remained unknown in the late 1980s. Solar, wind, and biomass sources offered varying potential but remained unattractive because of the high per capita cost of their technology. Uranium deposits were known to exist as well, and the Bolivian Nuclear Energy Commission (Comisión Boliviana de Energía Nuclear) was responsible for uranium exploration and production.
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