By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS – The Guri dam, which is the source of 65% of all of Venezuela’s electricity, is less than four meters from reaching the level where power generation will be impossible, according to experts interviewed by Latin American Herald Tribune.
“Venezuela had the money to make this work -- we shouldn’t be at this crisis stage," said Miguel Lara, an engineer that worked for Opsis, the office that used to interconnect private and government electricity companies in Venezuela before the 2006-2007 nationalizations. "They were just careless with the installed capacity. I will not say that the system will collapse, but we are certainly operating in a dangerous area."
Water levels at the hydroelectric dam are 3.56 meters from the start of a "collapse" of the national electric system, say experts. Guri water levels are at their lowest levels since 2003, when the a nationwide strike against Hugo Chavez reduced the need for power, masking the problem.
Venezuela is now seeing three street protests a day, according to NGO Observatorio de Conflictividad Social. On any given day, one of those protests has to do with blackouts -- even though rates have been frozen since 1982.
“It is not Guri that is in disarray, it is the whole system. Rates frozen, companies nationalized, capacity that was supposed to be installed was never installed and maintenance not carried out”, is how Lara, who worked in the industry for 30 years, sums up the situation.
"The Guri complex was designed to provide 60% of all the power and the rest, 40%, was meant to come from thermal sources," says Lara. "Now, we are even more dependent on hydro than ever before, over 65% of all power comes from hydro.”
But a nationwide drought is complicating everything. The rainy season has started but the levels in the dam keep falling and critics warn of increased blackouts and brownouts in a country with already faulty electricity service.
Outside of Caracas, power is touch-and-go for most of the day, particularly in the sparsely populated hinterland away from the Caribbean coast.
The Guri dam complex and accompanying powerhouses (Central Hidroeléctrica Simon Bolivar) were built in gold-and-minerals rich Bolivar state starting in 1963, making the newly-democratic Venezuela a world leader in hydro-electric power for several decades.
The complex was named in 1978 after one of the Venezuelan Presidents that oversaw most of its construction, Raul Leoni, but Chavez changed the name to “Simon Bolivar” in 2000, the year after he took over. Critics say that was basically all Chavez ever did with Guri.
In order to save energy and electricity, on Saturday, at a march against imperialism and the U.S.A., Maduro cancelled school and work, declaring a holiday from March 19 through March 27.
"The emergency decision we took is due to El Nino," said Maduro. "We will save more than 40% from these measures."