Thursday, 23 June 2011

Venezuela responds to energy shortages

Source: Correo del Orinoco International, No. 68, 17 June 2011.

Conservation, cutting back electricity bills and using energyefficient appliances are some of the measures announced this week by the government to resolve problems caused by excessive use of electrical energy

Responding to a series of power outages in Western areas of the country provoked by excessive demand and some instances of sabotage, Vice President Elias Jaua alongside Energy Minister Ali Rodriguez announced a package of measures last Monday designed to accelerate energy efficiency in the nation and prevent further blackouts.

The measures, which intend to curb the irresponsible consumption of subsidized energy by residential, commercial, and government users, were made known during a press conference held at the headquarters of the state energy company Corpoelec in the capital of Caracas.
“These are not measures intended to limit the right to electricity, but rather to avoid the inadequate and excessive use of energy in order to guarantee a safe and stable supply”, Vice President Jaua said to journalists gathered for the event on Monday. “Government institutions and agencies will set the example first by reducing energy use in buildings”, he added.

As part of the initiative, rate increases of ten percent will now be handed out to large energy users who fail to reduce their consumptionlevel to those consistent with rates of use in 2009. In the case of noncompliance, the rate hikes will be increased by five percent every month. While this measure applies to the biggest consumers such as shopping malls and industrial firms, individual households that show heightened energy use will also be required to display reductions or face similar sanctions. Entities that work with essential human services such as hospitals, law enforcement agenciesand suppliers of potable waterare exempt from the new regulations.

Greater incomes combined with population and economic growth have elevated Venezuela’s energy consumption from 10,800 Megawatts a year in 1999, when President Hugo Chavez took power, to its current level of 17 thousand. Venezuela is now the second highest electricity consumer in all of Latin America, next to Argentina, and has seen a jump of two thousand megawatts in its consumption levels in the first half of 2011.

Last year, a prolonged drought crippled production at the nation’s largest hydroelectric dam, forcing the government to implement rolling blackouts and apply energy-savings measures to households and businesses. Those measures were lifted as the crisis subsided and while government officials have cited he existence of sabotage as a major reason for recent outages, Jaua recognized on Monday that production increases are necessary to complement a lowering of demand. As such, the government has announced a plan to incorporate a further nine thousand megawatts of electricity to be added to the power grid by the end of 2012. The increases will be made through the construction of new power plants and the renovation of older stations.

But the government insists that excessive demand must be reduced and in addition to price hikes, cost incentives are also being provided to consumers who are able to curtail usage. For those able to reduce their electricity consumption by between 10 and 19.9 percent, a discount of 25 percent will accompany their monthly bill while those able to lower their usage by more than 20 percent will see a 50 percent slash in costs. Electricity is already heavily subsidized by the state, yet Jaua announced that no rate increases were planned in the near future. He did, however, emphasize that consumers are more apt to waste electricity due to the low prices. “If users had to pay unsubsidized rates for electricity, consumption would go down”, said Jaua, “but for now we are not going to increase rates”.

“We are sure that we’re going to win this new battle. With the consciousness of our people we’ll be able to stabilize our electric system for the well-being of the Venezuelan people”, Jaua assured. A government decree ordered state institutions to rely on individual energy plants during the hours of 11am-4pm and 6-10pm until restrictions are lifted. Jaua also called on people to reduce usage of high-consuming appliances, such as air conditioners and electronics. A massive public awareness campaign regarding energy conservation has already been in full swing since last year’s difficulties.

Public television regularly broadcasts short commercials encouraging households to shut off lights when leaving rooms and “unplug appliances not in use”. Neon signs and billboards are also regulated under the new decree, which limits their usage between the hours of 7pm to midnight.