CARACAS – Venezuelan civil servants will work five-hour days beginning Monday – from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. – to help save electricity because of the country’s serious energy deficit.
The measure was announced Friday night by President Hugo Chavez, and at first went unnoticed because at the same time he announced a major currency devaluation and complained of a new violation of national air space by U.S. aircraft.
“In Caracas alone we will manage to save close to 187 MW – this is one of several measures we have approved” to deal with the crisis, which include the creation of “an incentive” for families who cut down their consumption of electricity, which in some cases will mean canceling a large part of their monthly bill, he said.
Average family consumption, Chavez said, is between 500 and 600 kilowatt hours, at a cost of some 200 bolivars (about $93) a month.
“For those who reduce their consumption by a significant percentage, we will eliminate a large part of their monthly electric bill,” he said, after repeating that “irresponsible consumption,” a drought and other factors have placed the nation’s hydroelectric reserves in an “alarm zone.”
Hydroelectric plants that supply almost 90 percent of Venezuela’s national consumption are fed by waters of the Caroni River in the southeastern state of Bolivar, but reservoirs currently are roughly 10 meters (33 feet) below normal levels.
One of those plants now at dangerously low levels, the Guri Dam, supplies almost three-fourths of Venezuela’s electricity and is one of the largest hydroelectric power stations in the world.
The Chavez administration has ordered heavy and light industry to work out an obligatory plan for reducing monthly consumption by at least 20 percent below that of the same month the year before.
The government agreed this week to make less rigid an unpopular measure that would have restricted electricity consumption in shopping centers and forced establishments such as movie theaters to turn off their lights well before their usual closing time.
Opposition spokespersons say that the electricity crisis is yet another example of the inefficiency of a government that in 11 years has not implemented the necessary plans and investments in the sector, something Chavez has admitted to some extent while insisting on the impact of drought and “capitalist waste.”