Mérida, September 22, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)– Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced Sunday that the government will build 21 local electricity generating plants to reduce Venezuela's dependence on hydroelectricity and satisfy the rapidly growing energy demand nationwide.
"We are installing 21 plants across the country. The plants were brought from the Republic of Cuba," said Chavez on his weekly talk show Alo Presidente. "They are small units that connect in a series for a small town, for a hospital, or food storage facility," he explained.
Accompanied by several officials from the National Electricity Corporation, which has managed Venezuela's electricity production since the sector was nationalized in 2007, Chávez inaugurated one of the plants Sunday in the town of Camaguán in the state of Guárico.
The plant will have the capacity to produce 15 megawatts of electricity, which will benefit 35,000 residents in the municipality, power the local milk processing plant, and improve local agriculture, according to the president of the National Electric Corporation, Hipolito Izquierdo, who attended the broadcast of Alo Presidente on Sunday.
Izquierdo also said the 21 new plants will be able to work autonomously, or be connected to the national electricity system.
The vice minister of energy, Maria Gabriela Gonzalez, said the new plants are part of a plan to decrease Venezuela's dependence on hydroelectric energy, more than 70% of which comes from the Guri dam in the southeastern state of Bolivar.
Following a power outage provoked by a forest fire near the Guri dam that affected more than half of Venezuela last April, President Chávez announced plans to build 42 hydroelectric projects to raise national electricity production from 22,540 to more than 31,000 megawatts.
Amid rising demand, the government estimates the national energy shortage to be between 1,000 and 2,000 megawatts. In the first half of this year, there were 391 unplanned power outages in the nation's main power lines, and brief power outages continue to be a common occurrence in many cities.
In addition to investing in electricity production, the government is importing energy in the short term and promoting energy conservation in the long term in order to deal with the shortage.
Earlier this month, the head of Colombia's state electricity company Isagen, Liliana Zapata, confirmed that Colombia, which has a 4,500 megawatt surplus, will deliver 80 megawatts to Venezuela starting this month.
Chavez has also called on Venezuelans to save more energy. On Sunday, he reported that the Energy Revolution Mission has replaced more than 53 million regular light bulbs with energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs in residential homes, private businesses, and government facilities since the program was launched in 2006.
The latest phase of the Energy Revolution Mission is a project called "Sowing Light" that aims to set up solar panels in small towns that are isolated from major cities and electricity generators.
Through the program, the government has set up solar panels in households of 550 communities so far, according to program director Jesús Marrero. In 81 of these communities, solar-powered water treatment plants have been installed.
The model is in its pilot phase, but is projected to expand with the help of a 10 million bolivar (4.65 million dollar) government investment. The solar panels originate in Spain but are assembled in Cuba, and supplied to Venezuela in exchange for oil.
Last Friday, Chávez announced that the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA signed eight new accords with companies from the United States, Qatar, Portugal, Japan, Italy, Russia, and Malaysia to produce natural gas in Venezuela by forming mixed enterprises, of which PDVSA must control at least 60% according to Venezuelan law.
"We have firmly, seriously, and profoundly begun the Gas Revolution," Chavez declared.