Colombia mines minister Gonzalez resigns over energy problems

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s Mines and Energy Minister Tomas Gonzalez has resigned his post, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Monday, amid a series of energy generation problems sparked by drought.

Tomas Gonzalez Estrada attends the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2015 in Riviera Maya, Mexico, May 7, 2015. REUTERS/Victor Ruiz Garcia

Colombia has suffered from a severe drought across much of the nation since the El Nino weather phenomenon began last year and dropping water levels at reservoirs and hydroelectric plants have caused damage at power generators.

A fire last month at the Guatape hydroelectric plant also shut down generation and limited water flowing into other plants.

Santos called on the nation to limit its use of electricity in a bid to make sure rationing is not necessary.

“The mines minister, Tomas Gonzalez, has assumed responsibility for the delay in savings measures and has presented his resignation,” Santos told reporters in Bogota.

About 11 percent of energy has been lost over 15 days because of the fire at Guatape in Antioquia province, and other problems at plants, he said.

The government will impose a system of carrot and stick, applying penalties for over-use and benefits for those households and companies that use less energy than average.

“As president I would have preferred that we take these measures sooner,” Santos said. “What is at stake is the credibility of the government, but most of all Colombians’ confidence in the electrical system.”

Maria Lorena Gutierrez, currently minister for the presidency, will take over the post, Santos said.

Around 70 percent of the country’s energy is generated at hydro-electric plants.

Reporting by Bogota newsroom; Editing by Alistair Bell