Brazil struggles to help state dependent on Venezuela for power

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - The Brazilian government is looking at all options, including large batteries, to help northern Roraima state with power supplies after a series of blackouts in recent months largely related to its dependency on cash-strapped neighbor Venezuela.

Roraima is the only Brazilian state not connected to the national power grid. Its capital, Boa Vista, and most other cities in the state are supplied by power produced in Venezuela and transmitted through a line that was opened in 2001.

Documents produced by a Brazilian government committee monitoring the power sector show the state suffered 17 large-scale power outages since August. The documents, seen by Reuters, said only one instance was not related to Venezuela.

The situation underscores how Venezuela’s economic collapse is affecting its neighbors. Roraima is already dealing with a flood of Venezuelan migrants looking for food and work.

“The economic situation in Venezuela is precarious, and it affects power line maintenance,” Fábio Lopes Alves, electricity secretary at Brazil’s Energy Ministry, told Reuters.

“It is extremely worrying, we are studying how to assist them,” he said.

The Energy and the Information ministries in Venezuela did not respond to requests for comment.

A source at state-controlled Venezuelan power firm Corpoelec acknowledged that lack of maintenance is hurting Venezuela’s power transmission system.

“The dams are full of water, the rainy season has filled the dams, but the lack of maintenance means that we still have power outages,” the source said, asking not to be named because he was not authorized to speak about the issue.

Brazil’s government is evaluating quickly awarding licenses for companies to build local power generation projects of various types, including both renewable and non-renewable energy. It is also studying the possibility of buying large-scale batteries.

Asked why Roraima is still not connected to the national power grid, Alves said a project for a new line awarded in 2011 to a consortium formed by Centrais Elétricas Brasileiras SA and Alupar Investimento SA was never built because of difficulties obtaining environmental permits.

Roraima is home to some of the largest indigenous lands in Brazil, such as the Raposa Serra do Sol reserve with 1.74 million hectares (4.2 million acres), an area similar to that of Kuwait. The proposed line would cut through one of them.

The government plans to award a new license early next year for the construction of a power line to connect Roraima to the grid, Alves said.

Additional reporting by Diego Ore Oviedo, in Caracas; Writing by Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Frances Kerry