Power Outage Cripples Venezuela

Sep 6, 2013

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A major power outage left approximately 70% of Venezuela without electrical power for approximately 3 hours earlier this week, according to government sources. Although power outages are a normal event in the South American country, they rarely affect such a large swathe of the nation. Even large parts of the capital of Caracas went dark. According to President Nicolas Maduro, the September 3 power cut was the result of government opposition who would use it to ‘sabotage’ the current regime. He said it was the ‘extreme right’ conducting a ‘low-level war’ against the country by cutting electricity. The president gave no evidence of his accusations. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles countered Maduro's claims by stating that the central government has not kept up with system maintenance and upgrades needed to keep electricity flowing. He says Maduro is trying to divert attention away from his own government failings by blaming the opposition. The power cut was caused by a fault on one of Venezuela's main transmission lines at about 12:30 local time. In the capital, it caused chaos. Traffic lights were out, workers were sent home, and shopkeepers put up signs declaring there was no electricity. The outage also disrupted parts of the city's underground transportation. Smaller disruptions are common in Venezuela due to an antiquated system and little maintenance. When it does go out the commercial sector comes to a virtual standstill. The Internet is also largely dark as data centres and collocation facilities have to rely on secondary generators. The one industry that remains largely unaffected is the oil industry. Oil refineries typically generate their own power. Late President Hugo Chavez declared an ‘electricity emergency’ in 2010, pledging the government's financial resources to fix the country's electrical system. According to Capriles, the problems have still not been addressed despite the fact that Chavez and Maduro have spent billions over the last few years to buy the votes of the public. He claims little has been done to seriously address the real problems.

No Turning Back

When these sorts of things happen, it is evident that there is no turning back in the 21st century. We are now a world relying on electricity and other forms of power – without which the commercial and government sectors are not able to operate normally. If there is no electricity, virtually everything in the cities stops. In Venezuela's case, it is not a matter of electrical generation. About 70% of their electricity comes from hydropower, while the rest comes from other sources. For them it is a matter of upgrading transmission lines and, where necessary, completely rebuilding the infrastructure. It is also a reminder to the rest of the world not to play politics with electricity. We can afford to do without things like public support for the arts; we cannot do without electricity. If the entire world is to move forward into the future, countries like Venezuela need to get their houses in order to protect the supply of power, otherwise, they will be left behind…