By Leonardo Goy
BRASILIA Feb 4 Some of Brazil's most populous
regions suffered sporadic power outages on Tuesday, raising
election-year fears of shortages in a country with a long
history of blackouts.
The shortages, which occurred during record heat and low
reservoir levels at the country's hydroelectric plants, were
caused by short circuits in transmission lines in the
north-central state of Tocantins, said Brazil's national grid
The outages extended to as many as 6 million consumers and
industrial users in Brazil's biggest cities, usage-heavy regions
further south and across parts of the country's farm belt in the
The government on Tuesday moved quickly to dismiss concerns
that the shortages were symptoms of a bigger problem. President
Dilma Rousseff, already wrestling with a sluggish economy and
consumer unease because of rising prices, faces a re-election
bid this year.
Just one day before the outages happened, Energy Minister
Edison Lobão told reporters that "we see no risk of energy
Record heat in January and a prolonged lack of rain have
left hydroelectric reservoirs at low levels, which forced power
companies to supplement Brazil's hydroelectric supply by buying
energy from thermal-fired plants. If consumers face more outages
or higher bills because of the changing power mix, energy woes
could influence voting in a country where blackouts led to power
rationing as recently as 2002.
The outages, according to the grid operator, happened when
the short circuits triggered a deliberate shutoff in
transmission to some distributors. The shutoff, officials said,
kept shortages from being even more widespread.
The system "worked just as it's supposed to work," said
Maurício Tolmasquim, the president of the Energy Research
Company, a government agency, at a press conference.
Companies reporting outages included those serving Brazil's
two largest metropolitan areas: AES Eletropaulo SA,
the distributor for Sao Paulo, and Light SA, the main
distributor in Rio de Janeiro. Nine other utilities also
experienced shortages, the government said.
Officials said they need to investigate what caused the
short circuits but added that they were not the result of any
sort of overcapacity or because of surging demand on the grid.
Brazil's existing power capacity can supply about 50 percent
more than has ever been required during peak periods of usage,
Yet the failures happened at a time when Brazilians want
more power for air conditioners, fans and refrigerators. January
was the hottest month on record in parts of Brazil including its
biggest city, São Paulo.
Reservoirs in the country's south and central west regions
are at about 40 percent of their capacity, according to
government figures. The average capacity last February, which
also was drier than usual, was about 45 percent, while capacity
at the reservoirs two years ago was at 80 percent.
Tolmasquim said on Tuesday that the government would
evaluate the costs for supplementing the utilities'
hydroelectricity with thermal-generated energy and could
consider financial relief for those companies.
Meanwhile, government officials, like many across Brazil,
are waiting for rain.
"You're never without rain forever," said Hermes Chipp,
director of ONS, the grid operator. "The wet season may get
delayed, but eventually it arrives."