CARACAS – Venezuelan shopping malls are starting 2010 under new restrictions on electricity use put in place to battle drought-induced power shortages.
In December, the state-run Corpoelec power company announced measures to reduce electricity consumption by 20 percent in the industrial, commercial and residential sectors. The plan entered into force on Jan. 1, but because of the New Year’s holiday its effect was being felt on Saturday for the first time.
The measures affecting so-called “high-use” customers include restricting electricity consumption at shopping malls to “between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m.” and at casinos and bingo parlors to “between 6:00 p.m. and midnight.”
Corpoelec has defined “high-use” customers as those that “have electricity demand in excess of five megawatts (per month) in the case of heavy industry and two megawatts (per month) in the case of light industry, malls and stores and residential facilities.”
Violations of the limits on power use “will give the operator the right to cut electricity service for a period of 24 hours following the (act of) non-compliance, while in the case of a repeat violation the cut will be for a period of 72 hours,” Corpoelec said.
Representatives of Venezuelan shopping malls said they are adapting to the restrictions, but they insist flexibility is needed to avoid an adverse impact on establishments such as restaurants and movie theaters and to ensure customers’ access to important businesses like pharmacies.
Carlos Moreno, manager of the Tolon Fashion Mall in eastern Caracas, said the regulations will especially affect discos, bars and restaurants and movie theaters.
Business owners therefore propose extending electricity use at those establishments until “11 or 12 at night” since they open later than other businesses and their power consumption “represents less than 10 percent” of the total at any given shopping mall, Moreno told local media.
He said Venezuela’s shopping centers’ association “is trying to arrange a meeting with the Electrical Energy Ministry to see how the hours” at these nighttime establishments can be made more flexible.
Meanwhile, theaters located at shopping malls have changed around movie times, scheduling the last showings at around 6:00 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. – depending on the length of the film – to comply with the regulations, the representative of the Cines Unidos cinemas chain, Gustavo Rodriguez, told local media.
The elimination of 9:00 p.m. starting times is a “big blow” to theaters because “30 percent” of moviegoers prefer that hour, a manager of a Caracas shopping mall who requested anonymity told Caracas’ Ultimas Noticias newspaper.
That same manager said it is “necessary to make (Corpoelec’s) regulation more flexible” because, as it is being applied now, it won’t be possible for “security mechanisms at banks to function, supermarket refrigerators to keep (food unspoiled) and pharmacies to attend to users after-hours.”
Electrical Energy Minister Angel Rodriguez, for his part, told Ultimas Noticias that the government is not requiring establishments that “cannot do without the service” to turn their lights off completely but merely ensuring that “activity that generates high levels of energy consumption lasts (only) until 9:00 p.m.”
President Hugo Chavez said last month that a severe drought – caused in part by the El Niño weather phenomenon – has resulted in “dangerously low” water levels at the Guri hydroelectric plant, which provides some 70 percent of the country’s electricity.
The socialist government began rationing water and electrical power in November, while Chavez has railed against “half-hour” showers and announced plans for a new rate structure to reward customers who use less power and penalize the profligate.
The opposition, meanwhile, says lack of rain is part of the problem, but also points to insufficient investment in infrastructure.