BETTING BIG

Costa Rica 2018 | ENERGY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Omar Miranda Murillo, General Manager of Coopelesca, on diversifying into energy generation, becoming more sustainable, and upcoming investment projects.

Omar Miranda Murillo
BIOGRAPHY
Omar Miranda Murillo is currently General Manager of Coopelesca. He previously served as Manager of the Union of Cooperatives of the North and Regional Deputy Director of the Institute of Agrarian Development. He holds a master of business administration and marketing degrees from the Technological Institute of Costa Rica, with preparation in higher management and leadership at INCAE.

How has Coopelesca evolved over time, becoming one of the most important companies in the San Carlos region?

Coopelesca is a cooperative that was founded in 1965 with the objective of providing energy to the northern area of Costa Rica, approximately 10% of the country. In 2017, we entered the business of telecommunications with the main objective of providing internet connection and improving connectivity in this area. To date we have increased the internet penetration rate from 3% to 53%. Within this project, we also provide cable television services; almost 55,000 of our 85,000 members use those services. As a part of this change, we decided to venture in the retail market with our appliance stores in the area of San Carlos, Sarapiquí, and Pocosol with competitive prices in the market and financing with low prices. We have also ventured into the insurance business in partnership with Insurance National Institute; we commercialize the most important insurance for our community. Our business core is energy; we not only distribute, but also generate our own energy through hydroelectric plants, representing 73% of our total energy consumption. We also have a wide project portfolio. Currently we are developing a photovoltaic project of 5MW in Buenos Aires de Pocosol in partnership with Conelectricas, the first solar project in the area. The goal is for it to be operational by 2018.

Why did Coopelesca decide to diversify its services?

The mission of a cooperative is to satisfy the needs of its members, which is why we supply electric energy. Additionally, we decided to provide telecommunications services because a large part of the infrastructure we have can be used for these services, and given our knowledge of the distribution of energy, it made sense to incorporate cable and the internet as well. Families require not only housing, water, electricity, and infrastructure, but connectivity as well. Connectivity is key for the development of any society in order to reach the living standards of the modern world. Furthermore, with the diversification of our services we generate other sources of revenue that translate into greater benefits to the owners of this cooperative who are all of our associates.

Do you see changes in the way of producing energy in Costa Rica moving to more sustainable methods?

It has to be clear that producing clean energy is not always the cheapest way, and at the moment there is strong debate in the country since nearly the 98% of the national output of energy is produced by renewable sources. However, pricing is a key issue because the government believes our prices are high and cannot compete with other countries, such as Mexico or the US, who use polluting energy sources but are ultimately competitive in price. For that reason, we need to take advantage of all possible sources that we have here in Costa Rica, such as natural gas, biogas, and distributed generation, and we need to make it work for the planet and for our country by improving the laws and the regulation.

What are the challenges, goals, and new investments of Coopelesca for 2018?

First, we have the photovoltaic project taking place in Buenos Aires de Pocosol, which is a large and ambitious development. Also, we plan to use geothermic energy of low enthalpy and wind energy, which can be developed in this region easily. In terms of telecommunications, our bet is on the bandwidth of the internet. Another great bet is a total redesign of the services in order to achieve four things: efficiency, excellent service to all members, greater income from our own sources, and strengthening the insurance business unit. San Carlos is a region with great potential to grow and attract foreign investment because we have many opportunities that can be set here. Finally, looking for a member participation in the consumption, the smart grid project will be an important goal.