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Venezuela in grips of energy crisis

El Niņo blamed for power shortage

“It’s a true emergency,’’ Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, said Monday as his government scrambled to avoid a power-grid collapse by buying generators from Brazil to China. “It’s a true emergency,’’ Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, said Monday as his government scrambled to avoid a power-grid collapse by buying generators from Brazil to China. (Presidencia/AFP/Getty Images)
By Jose Orozco and Steven Bodzin
Bloomberg News / February 10, 2010

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CARACAS - President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela has declared a national emergency in the electricity sector as the country’s worst drought in 50 years dries up water supplies to hydroelectric dams.

“It’s a true emergency,’’ Chávez said Monday on his state radio show. “Some opposition parties are determined to blame the government for the lack of rain in more than a year. The fundamental cause is the ill-named El Niño phenomenon, a product of climate changes that are hitting the world.’’

The government is scrambling to avoid a power-grid collapse by buying generators from Brazil to China after nationwide rolling blackouts failed to prevent dam-water levels from dropping. Chávez fired his electricity minister and retracted an electricity conservation plan for Caracas last month after the measures left traffic lights without power, prompting protests.

The Guri dam is 46 percent full, down from 60 percent at the beginning of the year, according to the National Administration Center, which operates the power grid. Guri holds water used to generate more than two-thirds of the South American country’s power.

Declaring a state of emergency will allow the country to speed up its response to the crisis, Electricity Minister Ali Rodriguez said Monday.

Chávez announced measures on state television to penalize households and businesses that consume more than a certain level and provide incentives for them to cut energy consumption.

Electricity companies will assess a surcharge on households that consume more than 500 kilowatt-hours a month and do not reduce their usage by 10 percent, Chávez said.

Those that cut energy use at least 10 percent will get a discount, and those reducing consumption by more than 20 percent will see their bill halved, Chávez said.

“This is a motivator; we don’t want to charge anyone,’’ Chávez said.