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Rolling blackouts hit drought-stricken Venezuela

by Staff Writers
Caracas (AFP) Jan 12, 2010
Venezuela will be hit with rolling blackouts lasting four hours per day starting Wednesday, as part of a power-saving effort to cope with a severe drought, the head of the the state-run power company said Tuesday.

In Caracas, the power cuts will begin after midnight Tuesday and will take place on alternate days in different sectors and times, Electricidad de Caracas president Javier Alvarado said in his announcement.

The rest of the country will also suffer electricity cuts that could last until the start of the rainy season in May, he added.

Alvarado said the power-saving measures extended to government institutions as well.

Venezuela is flush with oil, the country's chief export, and natural gas, but meets domestic energy demand with electricity generated by its massive Guri Dam hydroelectric complex on the Orinoco River, which supplies 70 percent of the nation's power needs.

But with drought affecting large swathes of Latin America, water levels at the Guri Dam have dropped to a critical nine meters (30 feet) below normal and are still falling at a rate of 10 centimeters (four inches) daily, experts said.

"There's no time to lose if we don't want the (Guri) reservoir to collapse," the president of state-run Corpoelec power-distribution company, Jesús Rangel, told VTV television.

President Hugo Chavez last month announced a series of energy-saving measures to slash power consumption across the country by 20 percent.

Venezuela began rationing electricity in 2010 in malls, businesses and billboards.

However, due to public outcry and concerns that darkened malls would increase an already alarming crime wave in Caracas, the government Tuesday said it would keep entertainment centers lit up at night.

"In popular spots, we'll keep the lights on. It's an important consideration regarding the safety of our people," said Alvarado.

Chavez set up the electricity ministry at the end of October to help solve problems he blames on the drought and waste, but that his critics blame on bad management and a lack of investment.

All power companies were nationalized in Venezuela in 2007.

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