Caracas, February 11th 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Faced with its worst drought in the past 47 years, this week the Venezuelan government took a number of measures to save on energy.
The initiatives include reducing the working day in public institutions, as well as ordering high energy consumption shopping malls to cut down their opening hours to the public.
Malls will also be obliged to generate their own electricity for four hours a day at programmed intervals between between 1-3pm and 5-7pm when they will be cut off from the public grid.
Thanks to the El Niño phenomenon and other climatic factors, Venezuela’s reservoir reserves are currently at an all time low - forcing the government to take action to conserve both water and electricity, since dams provide a good part of Venezuela's electricity needs.
As of this week, shopping centres such as Millennium, El Recreo and El Lider across Venezuela will close between 7-8pm Monday to Friday - a significant reduction in their usual 10am-10pm opening hours.
While some malls, such as the Millennium Mall, will only open for four hours in the afternoon, other malls will remain open from 10am on, but will be obliged to either close or produce their own electricity during the two hour twice daily shut-off periods.
The decision comes after officials from the electrical energy ministry met with representatives from the Venezuelan Federation for Malls, Business Owners and Related Activities (Cavececo) last week. The federation proposed closing shopping centres for the morning only, but the request appears to have been denied by the ministry.
The news will come as a blow to some, with Venezuela famed for its thriving shopping mall culture in middle class zones, where residents regularly frequent the complexes to get a coffee, go to the cinema or just window shop.
Although the shopping centres will be able to operate normally over the weekend, business owners and analysts have criticised the move as jeopardising the country’s already struggling economy.
“The executive should evaluate other measures with less economic impact in order to solve the electricity emergency,” stated Ecoanalitica.
The financial think tank claims that the 400 shopping malls across the country only consume 6% of the country’s total electricity.
But the government has defended the decision, saying that business owners are simply refusing to cooperate with the laws of the country.
“This isn’t new, this is THE LAW,” tweeted Electrical Energy Minister Morra Dominguez, citing legislation passed in 2011 which requires all large scale private business to have their own electrical generators.
“They say that they are going to go bankrupt because we are cutting the electricity… A representative of a mall told me that he didn’t have space for an electrical generator, but he has four parking levels! There are some who own malls abroad, and they have electrical generators there,” explained Dominguez, who confirmed that shopping centres will be heavily fined if they are found to be in violation of the norms.
The minister also dismissed private sector calls to raise the country’s heavily subsidised consumer energy prices in a bid to curb excessive usage, explaining that ordinary people should not bear the brunt of the crisis.
“It’s not about money, it’s about conserving the levels of the Guri (reservoir). Increasing electricity prices isn’t the solution… because those who have financial power will just keep consuming,” he said.
The government has taken similar measures in previous years in response to heat waves and droughts in the past. However, this is the first time that shopping centres will be affected. Other initiatives that will be taken include circulating energy efficient lightbulbs to the public and a public media campaign.
The current measures are set to last for the next three months, when the El Niño phenomenon is expected to come to an end.