Growing anguish over blackouts: the electricity crisis that blights Venezuela

Growing anguish over blackouts: the electricity crisis that blights Venezuela

Fotografía: Rajesh Ram / Unsplash


During the last decade the deterioration of the National Electrical System (SEN) has reached critical levels. This is evident with the increasing frequency of blackouts that affects a large swaths of the country, except for the Caracas “bubble” and Bolívar State, where much more than half (73%) of the electricity is generated in the Simón Bolívar Hydroelectric Power Plant, also called Guri Dam.

By Rosimar Sánchez, Marianny Castellanos and Ana Guaita / Correspondent

This drama that Venezuelans go through daily has generated a profound negative impact on people’s daily lives, especially those who live in the central region, where citizens of the states of Aragua, Carabobo and La Guaira must overcome daily power outages that can last for several hours.

The daily lottery ranges from three to six hours or more, in addition to electrical fluctuations that come and go like waves in the sea. To better understand the magnitude of this crisis, the team spoke with an active Corpoelec worker, who preferred to keep his identity confidential for security reasons.

According to this informant, the lack of maintenance and obsolescence of electrical infrastructure are the determining factors in the current crisis. He noted that the 765 MW yard in Guri, which has three transformers, suffered damage in 2019 that has not yet been repaired.

Furthermore, he stated that the electrical system must function in an integral manner and this implies that it is not enough to have transformers in good condition, but also adequate transmission lines, an indispensable condition that is currently not met.

Likewise, he explained that due to the lack of investment and maintenance, an energy rationing system known as the ‘Plan de Administración de Carga’ (PAC, Load Management Plan) was implemented. However, this plan has failed to resolve the crisis, leading to ever more common and prolonged power outages affecting much of the population.

“During the ‘summer’ (dry season) the electricity crisis always worsens, first, because the water levels of the Guri drop; and second, because the transformers are not maintained. Furthermore, the temperature of the transformer oil rises to very high levels. Before, people were notified about scheduled rationing. Now the crisis is so big that they are ordering 130 – 140 MW cuts per energy block to relieve electricity demand a little from a consumption point of view,” he indicated.

The expert specified that in the specific case of Aragua State, by ordering 120 MW to be released and removed, it means that more than half of the entity will be without electricity service at any ne tme. “Of course, that depends on the peak of the transformers, because if they let it reach the maximum, there is a risk that a transformer in the 765 MW yard will burn out and there will be a (national) blackout,” he reiterated.

Another of the most worrying aspects is the lack of control in energy consumption, especially in public lighting, which remains on 24 hours a day in many places in Aragua and other states, and this generates excessive energy consumption and shortens the useful life of the equipment.

Those affected by the crisis speak

Maracay, known as the “Garden City” of Venezuela, has become a scene of anguish for its inhabitants as a result of the electricity crisis that plagues the region. Mariela López, a resident of a populous area of this city, has experienced firsthand the unfortunate result of power outages and electrical “sags”: the loss of two refrigerators in less than 12 months.

“It is nerve-wracking to live like this, with constant fear that the power will go out and an appliance will burn. The first time my refrigerator burned down it was a very hard blow, but I thought it was because I had had the refrigerator for so many years. Now, in less than a year, my refrigerator burned again. I tell it and I don’t even believe it, it seems like a novel,” she said.

Electrical fluctuations are a daily reality in Maracay and other cities in Venezuela, wreaking havoc on citizens’ appliances. “Thank God I didn’t lose the food because the neighbors helped me, and one saves the chicken for me, the other gives me cold water with ice and that’s how they have been helping me. But the money I spent on technicians and repairs to end up buying a new one that was also damaged, who will reimburse me? We Venezuelans are being victims of a system in which no one is responsible,” said Mariela, who is just one of the millions of Venezuelans who face the same situation.

The story repeats itself in Carabobo

The continuous power outages in Carabobo State not only diminishes the quality of life of its citizens who daily feel anguish for not knowing at what time of day they will be without electricity service and how long it will last.

Dora Romero, a resident of the Naguanagua municipality, commented that after the electrical failures and voltage fluctuations, her washing machine was damaged and she fears that the refrigerator will suffer the same fate. “Right now there is no surge protector that is worth it. I washed in the afternoons, but lately, of the three days a week I washed, the power went out on two days and just when the washing machine had started. So, I decided to wash one day in the early morning to try, there was a brownout and my washing machine didn’t turn on anymore. Now, who pays me to fix it?” Romero lamented.

According to the results of the Citizen Perception Consultation on Public Services, carried out in Valencia by the NGO ‘La Gente Propone’ project, the duration of electrical outages can range from four to 12 hours a day. In the month of March, 107 surveys were made in all the parishes of Valencia, and 100% of those surveyed stated that they were dissatisfied with the electrical service.

The coordinator of the Electrical Energy Commission of the Engineers Center of the state of Carabobo, Isnaldo Jiménez, reported that approximately 900 megawatts are needed in the entity to cover the demand for electrical energy in the 14 municipalities.

However, of the six thermoelectric plants that exist in the entity, he stated that only the Pedro Camejo Thermoelectric Plant would be operational and contributes around 100 megawatts. The rest of the load comes through the national interconnected system from the El Guri hydroelectric plant in Bolívar State.

“If there is a demand here for 900 megawatts and the region only gets 800 from Guri, one needs to ration 100MW. Of those 100 megawatts I have to apportion them between the circuits or substations,” he said.

He pointed out that the areas distribution infrastructure also has deficiencies. “When you add undue load to a system that has been working for a long time, all the constituent elements lose strength: conductors, insulators, current cutters, line disconnectors, fuses, everything dismembers if there is no effective maintenance. All the feeders have all these types of elements that have been working for 60 years,” he explained.

And La Guaira is not spared

A Corpoelec worker, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, explained to our Vargas Stadium Correspondent team that the high temperatures being experienced in the country “are having a significant impact on electricity consumption, especially due to the intensive use of cooling equipment, such as air conditioners and fans.”

According to him, this greater demand for energy puts the capacity of the electrical system to the test. And that is precisely why in the different parishes of the Vargas state, scheduled outages are “their daily bread,” since the energy overload threatens to leave several sectors without energy.

The worker highlighted the importance of carrying out adequate maintenance work on the transmission towers to prevent weeds from growing uncontrollably and causing fires, which could cause damage to the structures and affect the distribution of energy in different regions of the country.