Brazil minister warns of deeper energy crisis amid worsening drought

A man rides a bicycle near power lines connecting pylons of high-tension electricity, in Brasilia, Brazil August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

BRASILIA, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Brazil's Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque on Tuesday warned that the country's energy crisis was worse than previously thought, as a record drought hampers hydropower generation.

In a televised national address preempting the nightly news, Albuquerque said that the crisis had deepened. Water reserves at hydropower plants have already fallen to their lowest level in 91 years of records.

"Today I return to inform you that our hydroenergy conditions have worsened," Albuquerque said. "The rainy season in the south was worse than expected. As a result, the reservoirs of our hydroelectric power plants in the southeast and midwest suffered a greater reduction than expected."

He said that as a result of the drought, Brazil had lost hydropower output equal to the energy consumed by the city of Rio de Janeiro in five months. Hydropower is the largest source of energy in Brazil.

The minister emphasized that Brazilians must do everything possible to reduce energy usage to alleviate the crisis.

Albuquerque said that federal government agencies had been directed to cut electricity consumption by 20%.

Earlier in the day, the ministry announced that the government would raise energy prices due to the drought, with affected consumers paying an average 6.78% more for electricity starting on Sept. 1. Regulators have already raised prices multiple times due to the drought.

The country has had to import electricity from its neighbors and boost power generation at plants burning fossil fuels, which is more costly, Albuquerque said.

The ministry also said that it had approved incentives for consumers to voluntarily reduce their energy consumption.

Albuquerque appealed to Brazilians to make better use of natural light rather than electric lights, and cut back on the use of electric showers, air conditioners and clothing irons.

Reporting by Jake Spring, Roberto Samora and Marta Nogueira; Editing by Leslie Adler and Sonya Hepinstall

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