The specter of energy shortages in Chile reared its head again this week, as the Ministry of Economy released a short-term plan to confront the country's increasingly perilous energy scenario, particularly the prospect of electricity rationing, which the government last instituted in 1998. The order contains 30 points that intend to help Chile's electricity providers to operate responsibly in the coming year.
The decree calls for a combination of immediate measures aimed at conserving energy resources and guidelines for the eventuality that electricity rationing becomes necessary, a scenario the administration of President Michelle Bachelet still hopes to avoid. But officials stressed that the decree did not imply imminent interruptions in the electricity supply. "The goal is to reduce the effects [of potential energy shortages] on consumers, encourage voluntary energy conservation, and minimize the economic burden of energy deficits on the country," said Marcelo Tokman, Chile's Energy Minister. To that end, the statement stipulated an immediate 10% reduction in electrical voltage for distributors to urban areas. Government officials later disclosed that this measure came into effect Tuesday evening. Meanwhile, beginning in April, the government will also regulate the use of water in Chile's hydroelectric sector. The massive drought that Chile has experienced this summer has drained the major reservoirs of the country's hydroelectric generators to about 40% of their normal levels. The decree further stipulates that electricity companies give at least 36 hours of warning before cutting the lights on consumers. Some industry analysts expressed skepticism that the measures will prevent the need for electricity rationing in 2008. MarÃÅ'a Isabel GonzÃ¢€Â¢lez, former executive director of National Energy Commission called the prospect of electricity cuts highly likely unless the government takes more drastic steps. "Chile must apply a plan similar to that which Brazil used to confront its energy crises" she said Tuesday. In addition to creating incentives to conserve, "It is also necessary to assess punishments on clients who do not reduce their consumption". In addition to the lack of water, natural gas shortages are a major cause of Chile's looming energy crises. The country is dependent for its gas supply upon Argentina, which has been forced to reduce shipments over much of the past year, driving up costs for many of Chile's electricity generators. The Santiago Times