Mérida, January 15th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered the suspension of programmed power outages in the capital city on Wednesday, and asked for the resignation of his minister for electricity, citing errors in the management of the country’s plan to conserve energy amidst a nation-wide electricity shortage.
“Only in Caracas, I have ordered the suspension of electricity outages, because this government has to be capable of recognizing and rectifying errors committed,” Chavez announced late on Wednesday night, only one day after the scheduled power outages had begun in the heavily populated, sprawling capital.
According to the plan, electricity was to be cut for four hours every other day in different neighborhoods across the city, but a series of “technical errors” were committed, including repeated outages and the cutting of power to stoplights and hospitals in some communities, according to the president.
“I started to receive reports from different sources, phone calls, about some unintended impacts that the rationing of electricity in Caracas has had,” Chavez said. “So, I said, no, no, if it is like this, there was an error.”
Vice President Ramon Carrizalez said electricity rationing in Caracas is “a necessity” and that the government will review and re-initiate the rationing plan “so that it affects people as little as possible.”
Rationing in Caracas is more complicated than in other cities because “78% of the circuits have important and fundamental facilities such as hospitals and schools,” whereas in other parts of the country the percentage is closer to 30%, said Carrizalez.
The vice president added that the construction of two thermoelectric plants is underway outside of Caracas, one in Miranda state and the other in nearby Vargas state, and that these plants will be operating by the end of this year.
To help reduce electricity consumption in Caracas, more than a thousand neighborhood groups from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) began door-to-door campaigns to raise consciousness about energy conservation this week, according to PSUV Youth Coordinator Hector Rodriguez.
Rodriguez encouraged the duplication of the effort nation-wide, so that PSUV members “meet face to face with the Venezuelan people, discuss and explain why it is necessary that we close the tap, repair the dripping faucet, and turn off the lights we are not using.”
Electricity Minister Resigns
Also on Wednesday night, Chavez said Electricity Minister Angel Rodriguez had accepted his request for resignation. The president gave no indication of when a new minister would be chosen.
Chavez created the Electricity Ministry in December last year to increase electricity production and promote energy conservation amidst a national shortage of an estimated 1,600 megawatts. The shortage is attributed to a 40% increase in demand over the past decade, low seasonal water levels in hydroelectric facilities that supply 70% of the country’s electricity, and poor management in the electricity sector, which was nationalized in 2007.
In recent months, the government passed a series of measures to reduce the operating hours of public institutions and shopping centers, restrict the importation of inefficient appliances and electronic products, and offer rate incentives to reduce electricity consumption in homes. Also, nearly three dozen thermoelectric and hydroelectric plants are under construction to reduce the country’s dependence on its largest dam.
But these measures do not address the root of Venezuela’s electricity crisis, according to a statement released on Friday afternoon by the national electricity workers union, FETRALEC.
In addition to the measures already taken, the government must increase the direct participation of the workers in the management of the electricity sector, which is run by bureaucrats who believe in a top-down management structure and disregard the working class, said the statement, which was penned by FETRALEC President Angel Navas.
“More than a technical solution, it is the path to a definitive solution... the essential problem in our industry is of an ideological order, in the conception and the model of management,” the statement asserted. “The workers have been consulted little or not at all about [the electricity measures]. We cannot continue with little-by-little measures that are isolated from one another... it should be a global and complete plan.”
The statement also criticized “governors, mayors, and functionaries of all political stripes who try to avoid their responsibilities by attacking and discrediting the workers of the electricity industry.”
Over the past week, workers in Venezuela’s industrial centers in Bolivar and Carabobo states issued statements of concern about possibly losing their jobs as a result of the partial plant closures caused by government-mandated caps on electricity consumption in the aluminum and steel sectors.
Also, signs of public discontent are increasing in Venezuela’s western, Andean, and eastern regions, which have experienced rolling power outages for several months already. The regional branches of the national electricity corporation, Corpoelec, have not kept a regular schedule for the energy rationing and many regional water companies have announced temporary cuts in the fresh water supply as a result of the drought. Over the past month, protestors blocked traffic in Anzoategui and burned the local electricity company building in Merida.