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Colombia announces Diego Mesa Puyo as new energy minister

Highlights

Mesa is expected to continue predecessor's green energy push

New minister had served as an IMF energy economist

Issues outstanding include exploitation of shale oil reserves

Bogota, Colombia — Economist Diego Mesa Puyo was named Colombia's new energy minister June 25, replacing Maria Fernanda Suarez, who is resigning for "personal and family motives."

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President Ivan Duque confirmed the appointment of Mesa, 38, at a press briefing in the presidential palace. Mesa had been Suarez's vice minister for nearly two years. Previously he served stints as an economist specializing in energy policy at the International Monetary Fund and as head of the Bogota office of the PriceWaterhouseCoopers accounting firm .

Mesa, who got a master's degree in economics at McGill University in Canada, is expected to follow the clean energy transition initiated by Suarez that has seen Colombia reach 1,500 Megawatts of renewable energy sources for the electric power grid, mainly with new solar and wind power installations, up from only 60 Megawatts in August of 2018 when she and Duque took office.

"His two years accompanying minister Maria Fernanda Suarez allow for continuity of the very important (green energy) agenda that we have traced," Duque said.

After earning a masters degree in public policy at Georgetown University, Suarez joined Colombia's state-controlled oil giant Ecopetrol where she rose to become vice president of finance and strategy.

"Minister Suarez has led a transcendental process of energy transition in the country," Duque said. He also credited her with "opening the way to a solution" for the financially troubled Electricaribe power utility which distributes electricity to thousands of customers in northern Colombia and which the government took over in 2016 to save it from collapse.

Among Mesa's many challenges as minister will be to secure regulatory approval for the exploitation of non-conventional oil and gas reserves associated with coal and shale. Colombia has what have been estimated as Latin America's second-largest non-conventional reserves after Argentina, but development has been stymied by environmental concerns.

Mesa, who has been described as a technocrat and unaffiliated with any particular political movement, must also lead a ministry that has been battered by the COVID-19 crisis. The contagion has caused a drop in production and prices of crude oil, Colombia's most important export in terms of dollar receipts.

Another energy policy issue causing controversy is the rising tide of imports of corn-based US ethanol, which have risen since the 2015 US-Colombia free trade agreement was signed but which Colombian producers say has an unfair advantage in its use of corn as raw material compared with sugar, with which Colombian ethanol is made.

A flood of US imports of corn-based ethanol was cited as a factor in the bankruptcy this month of Bioenergy, the country's largest ethanol producer based on capacity in which parent company Ecopetrol had invested $850 million.