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Following repeated blackouts Chile announces major overhaul of power control

Saturday, July 31st 2010 - 05:42 UTC
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Santiago metropolitan region suffering power outage Santiago metropolitan region suffering power outage

In light of recent problems with Chile’s electrical system Energy Minister Ricardo Raineri announced this week plans to overhaul the control centre of the interconnected power grid, on which the majority of Chile’s electricity is run.

The announcement followed several blackouts this month, the latest being earlier this week, throughout the Santiago Metropolitan Region, as well as the regions of O’Higgins (VI), Maule (VII) and Araucanía (IX), Atacama (III) and Los Ríos (XIV).

The blackouts ranged from a few minutes to a few hours in some places, temporarily affecting residents and businesses, including some mining operations.

Authorities say the latest power outage originated in the substation of Polpaico, which belongs to Transelec, the biggest electrical company in Chile; a July 19 outage also originated in a substation owned by Transelec.

The energy sector in Chile is largely privatized; and is divided into four grids. The Central Interconnected System accounts for nearly 70% of all power generation in the country and serves more than 90% of the population. As many as 36 companies are responsible for the distribution of the electricity.

On March 14, there was also a wide-sweeping power outage, which originated in a substation of Biobío. At the time, it was attributed to the aftermath of the Feb. 27 earthquake and officials said then that the system could remain fragile throughout the year.

This week, Raineri said a new technological system is being considered, which would allow the electrical system to be operated automatically, as well as updated in “real time.”

“We are very irritated, and we know that this affects the lives of many people,” Raineri told local press. “The situation is outrageous, and for that reason we are working quickly and efficiently to accelerate our investigation of what happened”.

Raineri also said he disagreed with Transelec representatives, who maintain that human error is not to blame for the blackouts.

“Personally, I disagree with the substance and form of their statements, because one cannot just rule out the possibility of a human error, especially if you look at all the power outages that have occurred in the last month,” he said.

Transelec could face fines of up to 50,000 USD if Chilean authorities decide to punish the company for what it says was an “unacceptable” situation that disrupted residents and businesses alike. Additionally, the National Consumer Service (SERNAC) sent out a notice to more than 21 electrical companies requiring that they inform their customers of the different ways they can be compensated for the cost of the power outages.

Customers are entitled to compensation for the services they paid for but did not receive, explained SERNAC Director Juan Antonio Peribonio.

“Drastic measures are necessary,” said Sen. Jorge Pizarro, the Senate’s president. “After two outages in less than 24 hours, we have to act efficiently and find those responsible for the peace of mind of the thousands of citizens impacted.”

By Alanna Nunez – Santiago Times

Categories: Energy & Oil, Latin America.

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