José Leylao, general manager for Corporación Eléctrica Nicaraguense, S.A (CENSA), a privately owned electrical provider in Nicaragua, admits that after 40 years of power generation, nothing gives him more satisfaction than seeing the effect electricity has on families. “I cannot forget the happy faces of women and children when they first realize they have light and electricity in their houses,” Leylao admits.
The electrical engineer has been part of the Nicaraguan transition to privatize power plants that started in 1997. “CENSA was the first private company that started commercial production of electricity in Nicaragua,” he explains.
CENSA faced its first challenge when it purchased its current plant in 1998. The plant was in poor condition, with most of its production capacity out of order. It was a combination of investing in the right technology, the hard work of its employees and the right partnerships that pushed CENSA ahead.
“In less than one year we had recovered 100 percent production levels,” Leylao recounts. “The new investors injected liquidity to the plant and the employees worked continuously. We didn’t have to hire anybody externally to help, they did it all themselves.”
The production that year went from 30 to 57 megawatt electrical (MWe). Today CENSA provides between 6 and 7 percent of the electrical energy produced in Nicaragua.
CENSA is not done facing challenges though. “We depend on the stability of the international price for oil, which has been increasing in the last couple of years,” Leylao explains. “This has made our production more expensive.”
To alleviate the negative impact of fuel costs, CENSA is looking for ways to maximize its production at the current oil prices. “We have Caterpillar motors with internal combustion that operate with oil,” Leylao explains. “In the last two years, we have been experimenting with new fuel additives that might extend the use of the oil. We are also working with some U.S. companies trying to find equipment that might help us produce the same [kilowatts] with less fuel.”
Following the government push for sustainable energy, CENSA has started investigating solar power. “The data we have indicates this is not the best time for us to make that type of investment. It is definitely a project for the future,” Leylao explains.
Until last year, 70 percent of the electricity in Nicaragua was generated by fossil fuels. In 2012, that percentage dropped to 50 percent fossil fuels, 50 percent renewable energy.
CENSA has a contract with electrical distributors Dissur and Dissnorte, owned by Gas Natural, which will expire in three years. “The investment we’ve made in our equipment makes us confident that we can be in production for 10 more years,” Leylao says. “We can negotiate an extension on our contract, we can sign up with some industrial clients, or we can look for clients outside of Nicaragua.”
CENSA is counting on its employees to help it continue growing and evolving. “We invest in our employees with training courses and a system of promotions that let people grow professionally,” Leylao explains.
The dedication to its workers yielded unexpected benefits when the plant suffered a set back in July. “We had a fire in the plant that damaged half of the equipment,” Leylao says. “Our employees didn’t hesitate to work day and night until production was back up to speed a month later.”