Venezuela Announces Nationwide Energy Rationing

By: Fabiola Sanchez - AP Writer
By: Fabiola Sanchez - AP Writer

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuela's government imposed rolling
blackouts of up to four hours every other day throughout the
country on Tuesday to combat an energy crisis.

President Hugo Chavez has said rationing is necessary to prevent
water levels in Guri Dam - the cornerstone of Venezuela's energy
system - from falling to critical lows and causing a widespread
power collapse. Drought has cut the flow of water into the dam,
which feeds three hydroelectric plants that supply 73 percent of
Venezuela's electricity.

"This plan is going to be implemented troughout the country,"
Electricity Minister Angel Rodriguez said. "In some places, it
will be four hours, in others it will be three hours."

Rolling blackouts will begin in the capital of Caracas on
Wednesday, said Javier Alvarado, president of the city's state
electric utility.

Government officials had already imposed some cuts to help the
country get through the dry season until May, when seasonal rains
are predicted to return.

The government recently reduced the hours of electricity supply
for shopping centers and required businesses and large residential
complexes to cut energy use by 20 percent or face fines.

Chavez's government has also partially shut down state-run steel
and aluminum plants. The president announced last week that many
public employees will have shorter workdays - from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- except those in offices that tend to the public.

"With these measures, we're trying to keep Guri from taking us
to a very critical situation at the end of February, from creating
let's say a total shutdown of the country," Rodriguez told state
television Monday night as he announced the nationwide rationing
plan.

Some parts of the country have already been enduring unplanned
blackouts for months, as demand has outstripped the electrical
supply. The energy output from the Guri Dam's three hydroelectric
plants has also declined below its normal capacity.

The increased rationing will help cover a 12 percent gap between
energy supply and demand, due to the situation at Guri and at some
thermoelectric plants that are operating below capacity, Alvarado
said.

He said water levels at the dam in southeastern Venezuela have
dropped drastically as a result of the El Nino weather phenomenon
in the Pacific Ocean, saying "it's a global phenomenon and it's
affected us in recent months." He noted there has been
particularly little rain in southeastern Venezuela, where the

Chavez's critics say his government is to blame because it has
failed to complete enough power upgrades to keep up with increasing
demand despite Venezuela's bountiful oil earnings.

Alvarado said the Caracas subway, hospitals, media outlets and
public institutions that tend to the public would not be affected.


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