By an OGJ Online Correspondent

RIO de JANEIRO, Apr. 2, 2001¬óBrazil’s Mines and Energy Minister Jose Jorge Vasconcelos warned unless there are heavy rains between now and June, the country will suffer a severe electricity shortage.

The minister based his warning on a wide ranging report by the National Operator of the Electricity Systems (ONS), an organization created in 1998 to control power generation and transmission systems. According to the ONS report,if there are no heavy rains by May, 600,000 sq km, including Minas Gerais, east Goias, and the industrial northeast region of Sao Paulo state will face blackouts.

These areas constitute 61% of the waters that make turbines function at power generators in most of the country. The ONS reports makes severe recommendations, including rationing, starting with federal properties, prohibiting superfluous electric decoration, and possibly night soccer games.

To avoid rationing Vasconcelos said he is thinking of “incentive measures so the consumer avoids wasting power.” The ministry is studying measures to reward people and companies who reduce consumption in the next few months. Another measure under consideration is increasing taxes of those who consume too much electricity.

The government appears harmstrung in dealing with the possible blackouts. The country’s 16 thermoelectric plants and two nuclear plants are working at full capacity. Brazil has avoided an electricity collapse up to now because of the record production of the 12,600 MW Itaipu, one of the largest power dams in the world, located on the Brazil-Bolivia border. In addition, after 10 years of construction the Angra ll nuclear power plant began operating in mid-2000.

Energy sources told OGJ Online Brazil’s problems can be traced to a power system that depends 80% upon hydroelectric dams, which are at the mercy of rains. One source blamed lack of government planning in the last 15 years.

Investments in new sources of energy generation such as oil and gas (gas-fired thermoelectric plants), did not meet demand. Thermoelectric plants take about18 months to build compared to 5-7 years to build a hydroelectric plant. The Brazilian government has announced plans to construct 49 natural gas-fired power plants by 2010.

Transmission capacity is also in short supply or not located in the right place. The southern part of the country is “throwing out” some 1,000 MW/year since it cannot be sold to the Southeast because there is a scarcity of transmission lines, said a power executive, who requested anonymity.

In addition, for the past 20 years energy investments did not keep up with economic growth and the growth in electricity supply remained below average annual consumption.