Massive blackout hits tens of millions in South America

A vendor waits for customers during a national blackout, in Buenos Aires, Argentina June 16, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 June 2019
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Massive blackout hits tens of millions in South America

  • The subsidies were a key part of the electricity policy of President Néstor Kirchner’s 2003-2007 administration and the presidency of Kirchner’s wife and successor, Cristina Fernández in 2007-2015

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina: A massive blackout left tens of millions of people without electricity in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay on Sunday in what the Argentine president called an “unprecedented” failure in the countries’ power grid.
Authorities were working frantically to restore power, and by the evening electricity had returned to 90 percent of the South American country, according to Argentine state news agency Telam. Power also had been restored to most of Uruguay’s 3 million people.
As the sun rose Sunday over the darkened country, Argentine voters were forced to cast ballots by the light of cell phones in gubernatorial elections. Public transportation was halted, shops closed and patients dependent on home medical equipment were urged to go to hospitals with generators.
“This is an unprecedented case that will be investigated thoroughly,” Argentine President Mauricio Macri said on Twitter.
Argentina’s power grid is generally known for being in a state of disrepair, with substations and cables that were insufficiently upgraded as power rates remained largely frozen for years.
The country’s energy secretary said the blackout occurred at about 7 a.m. local time when a key Argentine interconnection system collapsed. By mid-afternoon nearly half of Argentina’s 44 million people were still in the dark.
The Argentine energy company Edesur said on Twitter that the failure originated at an electricity transmission point between the power stations at the country’s Yacyretá dam and Salto Grande in the country’s northeast. But why it occurred was still unknown.
An Argentine independent energy expert said that systemic operational and design errors played a role in the power grid’s collapse.
“A localized failure like the one that occurred should be isolated by the same system,” said Raúl Bertero, president of the Center for the Study of Energy Regulatory Activity in Argentina. “The problem is known and technology and studies (exist) to avoid it.”
Energy Secretary Gustavo Lopetegui said workers were working to restore electricity nationwide by the end of the day.
“This is an extraordinary event that should have never happened,” he told a news conference. “It’s very serious.”
Uruguay’s energy company UTE said the failure in the Argentine system cut power to all of Uruguay for hours and blamed the collapse on a “flaw in the Argentine network.”
In Paraguay, power in rural communities in the south, near the border with Argentina and Uruguay, was also cut. The country’s National Energy Administration said service was restored by afternoon by redirecting energy from the Itaipu hydroelectric plant the country shares with neighboring Brazil.
In Argentina, only the southernmost province of Tierra del Fuego was unaffected by the outage because it is not connected to the main power grid.
Brazilian and Chilean officials said their countries had not been affected.
Many residents of Argentina and Uruguay said the size of the outage was unprecedented.
“I was just on my way to eat with a friend, but we had to cancel everything. There’s no subway, nothing is working,” said Lucas Acosta, a 24-year-old Buenos Aires resident. “What’s worse, today is Father’s Day. I’ve just talked to a neighbor and he told me his sons won’t be able to meet him.”
“I’ve never seen something like this,” said Silvio Ubermann, a taxi driver in the Argentine capital. “Never such a large blackout in the whole country.”
Several Argentine provinces had elections for governor on Sunday, which proceeded with voters using their phone screens and built-in flashlights to illuminate their ballots.
“This is the biggest blackout in history, I don’t remember anything like this in Uruguay,” said Valentina Giménez, a resident of the capital, Montevideo. She said her biggest concern was that electricity be restored in time to watch the national team play in the Copa America football tournament Sunday evening.
Since taking office, Argentine President Macri has said that gradual austerity measures were needed to revive the country’s struggling economy. He has cut red tape and tried to reduce the government’s budget deficit by ordering job cuts and reducing utility subsidies, which he maintained was necessary to recuperate lost revenue due to years-long mismanagement of the electricity sector.
According to the Argentine Institute for Social Development, an average family in Argentina still pays 20 times less for electricity than similar households in neighboring countries.
The subsidies were a key part of the electricity policy of President Néstor Kirchner’s 2003-2007 administration and the presidency of Kirchner’s wife and successor, Cristina Fernández in 2007-2015. Fernandez is now running for vice president in October elections.


Voting closing in race to become UK’s new prime minister

Updated 22 July 2019
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Voting closing in race to become UK’s new prime minister

  • Members of the governing Conservative Party had until 5 p.m. (1600 GMT) to return postal ballots in the contest between Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to lead the party

LONDON: Voting was closing Monday in the race to become Britain’s next prime minister, as critics of likely winner Boris Johnson condemned his vow to take Britain out of the European Union with or without a divorce deal.
Members of the governing Conservative Party had until 5 p.m. (1600 GMT) to return postal ballots in the contest between Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to lead the party.
The winner will be announced Tuesday, and will take over as the nation’s leader from Prime Minister Theresa May the following day.
Johnson, a populist former mayor of London, is the strong favorite.
Several members of May’s government have said they will resign before they can be fired by Johnson over their opposition to his threat to go through with a no-deal Brexit if he can’t secure a renegotiated settlement with the EU.
Most economists say quitting the 28-nation bloc without a deal would cause Britain economic turmoil. The UK’s official economic watchdog has forecast that a no-deal Brexit would trigger a recession, with the pound plummeting in value, borrowing soaring by 30 billion pounds ($37 billion) and the economy shrinking 2% in a year.
Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday that a no-deal Brexit would be “an act of economic self-harm that runs wholly counter to the national interest.”
EU leaders insist they won’t reopen the 585-page withdrawal agreement they made with May’s government, which has been repeatedly rejected by Britain’s Parliament.
Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan quit Monday, lamenting in his resignation letter that “we have had to spend every day working beneath the dark cloud of Brexit.”
Other government ministers, including Treasury chief Philip Hammond, are set to resign on Wednesday.
The new prime minister will preside over a House of Commons in which most members oppose leaving the EU without a deal, and where the Conservative Party lacks an overall majority.
Opposition parties are preparing for an early election which could be triggered if the government loses a no-confidence vote in the coming months.
The centrist Liberal Democrats, who have seen a surge in support thanks to their strongly anti-Brexit stance, were set to declare the winner of their own leadership contest on Monday.