BLACKOUT Hits Venezuela…Power Outages Hit 7 States
Lucas Koerner–Seven states in western Venezuela lost electricity over the weekend as a result of low water levels in regional hydroelectric dams, authorities have reported.
Between Saturday and Monday, regions of the states of Merida, Trujillo, Apure, Tachira, Zulia, Barinas, and Portuguesa saw scattered blackouts lasting anywhere between two hours and two days.
According to Venezuelan Electric Energy Minister Luis Motta Dominguez, the power outages were triggered by a severe drought in the areas housing the San Agaton and La Vueltosa dams in Tachira as well as the Peña Larga dam in Barinas, which together produce 500 megawatts of energy for the southwestern part of the country.
“A climate situation has affected the operational levels of these dams, principally La Vueltosa but also San Agaton and others, which has led to these unexpected events and caused non-scheduled interruptions [of service],” the minister announced upon arriving at Trujillo’s Antonio Nicolas Briceño airport on Monday morning.
Motta Dominguez revealed the government was assembling a high-level multi-disciplinary team to address the energy shortages, led by Vice-President Tarek El Aissami, who is currently in Barinas. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol has been dispatched to Merida, while Ecosocialism and Water Minister Ramon Velasquez is to join Motta Dominguez in Trujillo.
The team will begin its work as Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza and other top ministers conclude their visit to the International Solar Alliance in India where they announced that the new Petro crypto-currency will be used to finance the development of solar energy in the Caribbean nation, though further details have yet to be released.
Back in Venezuela, Motta Dominguez indicated that the power shortages would last for “no more than 15 days” with meteorological forecasts predicting rains after March 20. He added that the national government would be taking contingency measures, including installing new generators as well as reactivating several thermoelectric plants in Barinas with the support of state oil company PDVSA.
While the region was largely calm during the blackouts, Trujillo saw outbreaks of protests, rioting, and looting in four municipalities, resulting in twenty people arrested and twenty injured, according to Governor Henry Rangel Silva.
Likewise, Merida’s principal municipality of Libertador was the scene of sporadic rioting and disturbances Sunday evening, reports VA correspondent Paul Dobson. Other public disturbances such as roadblocks were reported in Zulia and Barinas states, and widespread discontent was visible on social media with many citizens reporting damages to electrical appliances
Venezuela has long suffered recurrent blackouts and electricity shortages resulting from its overpopulated cities’ dependence on hydro-electricity, which has been vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
In the first third of 2016, Venezuela was hit by its worst drought in nearly five decades, prompting the national government to implement emergency electricity rationing measures in a bid to maintain the water levels of Bolivar state’s El Guri hydroelectric dam – the source of 70 percent of the country’s electric power.
However, recent months have seen more frequent and prolonged power outages. On February 22 and 27, various western states experienced interruptions of service, while an explosion in the Santa Teresa 3 plant in Miranda left large areas of Greater Caracas without power on February 14.
The Maduro administration has frequently blamed the blackouts on “sabotage” by anti-government actors, though the claim has been disputed by trade union leaders in the state electricity sector, who have attributed the current problems to mismanagement and underinvestment in infrastructure for power generation and distribution.