Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez extended electricity rationing until June in hopes that seasonal rains will help refill a key hydroelectric dam that has been drained to critical lows by drought.
Chavez said Thursday that the government will extend its declaration of an emergency in the electrical sector for 60 days. The rationing measures have included rolling blackouts in parts of Venezuela and fines for major users that don't meet government goals for reduced usage.
Heavy rains in the past week have fed hopes that Venezuela may be able to keep the Guri hydroelectric dam, which generates most of the country's power, from reaching such low levels that it would no longer function. A severe drought has drained the dam to near-critical levels.
Another factor in the country's energy crisis in recent months has been problems at some thermoelectric plants that have prevented them from functioning at full capacity. Chavez first declared an emergency in the electrical sector in February.
The return of the rains makes it less likely that water levels in the Guri dam could fall to levels that would force it offline, yet it will still take time for the water levels to rise, said Miguel Lara, former director of the Office of Interconnected Systems Operation, a state electricity agency.
The resumption in rains after months of dry weather doesn't mean the crisis is resolved, Lara said. He said the country's thermoelectric plants still are far from generating power at full capacity.
"We have a very serious risk for the next two years of having more rationing than we had this year," Lara said.
It could take two years for rains for bring water levels back to normal in the dam in eastern Venezuela, Igor Gavidia, president of the state utility Electrificacion del Caroni, told broadcaster Union Radio.