Oil Report

Argentine Congress OKs time change to save energy

BUENOS AIRES, Dec 27 (Reuters) - Argentina’s Congress approved a daylight savings measure late on Wednesday, part of a broader government plan to conserve energy as demand for power surges amid brisk economic growth.

Under the new law, which both houses of Congress passed the same day, the time in Argentina will jump forward an hour starting on Sunday. The clocks will turn back on March 16.

In the future, the government will set the dates for daylight savings without congressional approval. Officials say the measure is likely to take effect again next October.

The government rationed natural gas and power to major users during the southern hemisphere’s winter in June and July, putting a temporary dent in industrial production growth to ensure residential supplies.

Demand for power also tends to jump during the summer as the use of air-conditioning increases.

The government unveiled its conservation strategy last week, saying it will install energy-saving lightbulbs in public buildings, use less air-conditioning, turn off equipment at night, and cut decorative lighting in public spaces,

Planning Minister Julio De Vido said the government aimed to reduce electricity use by 6 percent from the average amount consumed in 2007.

The government also hopes to encourage Argentines to save energy at home.

Opposition lawmakers generally supported the measure but criticized the government while debating the bill, saying the move was late in coming and was not enough to resolve the country’s larger energy problems, local media reported.

As demand for energy surged in recent years, Argentina was forced to slash its natural gas exports to neighboring Chile, increase natural gas imports from Bolivia and buy electricity at peak times from Brazil and Uruguay.

The economy is poised to grow more than 8 percent for the fifth straight year, rebounding from deep crisis in 2001-02.

Largely frozen public utility rates and fuel prices dampened private investment in the energy sector, and the government has been working to regain lost ground by expanding and building new power plants. (Reporting by Hilary Burke and Lucas Bergman; editing by Jim Marshall)