Mérida, April 9th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – As Venezuela shows signs of recovery from a severe electricity shortage, the government extended its declared state of electricity emergency for another 60 days, saying the crisis will not be over until electricity production has fully recuperated and the nation is “shielded” against future climatic or other threats to its power supply.
“The declaration of an electricity emergency has been extended in Venezuela in order to continue defeating the crisis that we are living in the country,” President Hugo Chavez announced on Thursday, at the recommendation of Electricity Minister Ali Rodriguez. “We are going to protect not only Caracas, but the whole country with a new national system,” he said.
The government plans to invest an additional $5 billion in new thermoelectric plants across the nation, with the goal that thermoelectricity will account for half the nation’s power by the year 2015.
Currently, hydroelectric production accounts for more than 70% of the nation’s supply. An extended drought has caused the water level at the nation’s largest dam, El Guri, to sink so low that the facility was in danger of total collapse.
Rain finally began to fall in recent weeks, enough to slow the decrease in the water level to the point that “El Guri has not collapsed and it is not going to collapse,” according to Igor Gavidia , the president of the regional state-owned energy company Edelca.
The water level at the dam “has been descending, but relatively slowly as a result of the measures taken by the government, and thanks to the rains that have increased its volume,” said Gavidia. The water level is currently at just under 250 meters, and must return to the safe level of 271, which will require “at least two years of significant rainfall,” Gavidia projected.
Meanwhile, the government’s previous investments in electricity production are coming to fruition, with new thermoelectric plants adding hundreds of megawatts to the national grid in several states.
And, the government’s energy-saving measures, which included restrictions on importing appliances, electricity rate incentives, mandatory cuts in production in the heavy industries, and a three-day extension of the Easter holiday saved thousands of megawatts.
As a result, the rolling power outages that hit cities hard late last year are now shorter and less frequent.
However, the electricity shortage remains. The power supply increased over the past decade at double the rate of the 1990s, but continues to fall short of demand, which has increased by more than 40%, or 5,000 megawatts, fueled by five consecutive years of economic growth.
At least ten more thermoelectric plants are scheduled to begin operating in the next two months, including a floating thermoelectric barge on Lake Maracaibo.
In addition, two large plants that were purchased for $600 million from the U.S. company General Electric are expected to power Venezuela’s largest steel plant with 880 megawatts. The plant, SIDOR, which was nationalized two years ago, saw a 60% reduction in production several months ago at the height of Venezuela’s energy crisis.
Also, the state oil company, PDVSA, is constructing a wind power park near the northwestern coastline that is projected to produce 100 megawatts.
Suspected Sabotage of Electric System
The Energy and Mining Commission of the Venezuelan National Assembly announced that it will open an investigation of eight Colombian ex-military employees who were detained earlier this week on suspicion of spying after they were caught taking pictures of Venezuela’s electricity infrastructure.
“There is a series of facts that demonstrate that the denunciations with regard to sabotage have basis,” said National Assembly President Cilia Flores.
The Colombians were found in possession of satellite equipment and camera images of various electricity stations, transmission lines, and transport infrastructure around the country.
President Chavez said the Colombians’ activities were part of “the desperate counter-attack of the empire,” referring to the United States, which is Colombia’s chief ally and recently expanded its continental espionage and military surveillance from seven Colombian bases. “Without a doubt, this is part of the seven U.S. military bases in Colombia,” Chavez said.