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South America blackout leaves tens of millions without power

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South America blackout leaves tens of millions without power
16 June 2019
By PAUL BYRNE and PATRICIA LUNA
51 minutes ago


A sign, which usually displays the price of various types of gas electronically, stands without power during a blackout, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Argentina and Uruguay were working frantically to return power on Sunday, after a massive power failure left large swaths of the South American countries in the dark. (AP Photo/Tomas F. Cuesta)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A massive blackout left tens of millions of people without electricity in Argentina and Uruguay on Sunday after an unexplained failure in the neighboring countries’ interconnected power grid. Authorities were working frantically to restore power, but by mid-afternoon about half of Argentina’s 40 million people were still in the dark.

Voters cast ballots by the light of cell phones in gubernatorial elections in Argentina. Public transportation halted, shops closed and patients dependent on home medical equipment were urged to go to hospitals with generators.

“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.”

By mid-afternoon, power had been restored to most of Uruguay’s 3 million people. But in Argentina, only about 50% of the nation’s grid was back up and running, President Mauricio Macri said on Twitter, and officials from the Energy Secretariat were rallying to establish full service to all users.

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 around 7 a.m. local time when a key interconnection system collapsed, but the causes were “being investigated and are not yet determined.”

Brazilian and Chilean officials said their countries had not been affected.

Officials were not immediately available for comment, but many residents of Argentina and Uruguay said the size of the outage was unprecedented in recent history.
“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.”

Argentine energy company Edesur said on Twitter that the failure originated at an electricity transmission point between the power stations in Yacyretá and Salto Grande in the country’s northeast.

Uruguay’s energy company UTE said the failure in the Argentine system cut power to all of Uruguay at one point and much of Argentina. The company said that some
Uruguayan coastal cities had service by early afternoon and blamed the collapse on a “flaw in the Argentine network.”

Argentina’s secretary of energy said the power failed at 7:07 a.m. Only the southernmost province of Tierra del Fuego was unaffected.

“The cause is still under investigation,” the energy secretary’s office said.

Argentine electric company Edesur said that some 450,000 clients had power restored by 11:53 a.m., with hospitals taking priority. Uruguayan officials did not provide the number of clients with power back, but a growing list of regions with service indicated that restoration was progressing faster there.

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, 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.

 

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Hunt for cause of massive South America power outage begins
by LUIS ANDRES HENAO and PAUL BYRNE
32 minutes ago
17 June 2019




Technicians of Edenor electricity company stand under the rain as they work to fix a generator during a blackout in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sunday, June 16, 2019. 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. (AP Photo/Tomas F. Cuesta)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — As lights turned back on across Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay after a massive blackout that hit tens of millions people, authorities were still largely in the dark about what caused the collapse of the interconnected grid and were tallying the damage from the unforeseen disaster.
Argentine President Mauricio Macri promised a thorough investigation into what he called an “unprecedented” outage, one that raised questions about flaws in South America’s grid, which connects many of the region’s largest countries.
Energy officials said the results of the investigation would be available in 10 to 15 days, and they could not immediately provide details on the economic impact of the outage, which came on a Sunday, and a day before a national holiday in Argentina.

Argentine Energy Secretary Gustavo Lopetegui said the blackout began with a failure in the country’s “interconnection system,” adding that it happens in other countries as well. But he said a chain of events took place later, causing a total disruption.
“This is an extraordinary event that should have never happened,” he told a news conference. “It’s very serious. We can’t leave the whole country all of a sudden without electricity.” He did not discount the possibility of a cyberattack, but said it was unlikely.


The collapse began at about 7 a.m. Sunday, with Argentina’s population of 44 million and residents of neighboring Uruguay and some areas of Paraguay waking up to Father’s Day in the dark.

Public transportation halted in Buenos Aires, while phone and internet communications were disrupted, water supplies were cut off and shops were forced to close. Patients dependent on home medical equipment were urged to go to hospitals with generators.

Power was fully restored by Sunday night. But the outage ignited questions about Argentina’s preparedness and lack of investment in the power system at a time when the country is going through a deep economic crisis with soaring inflation, a tumbling of the local currency and a spike in utility bills fueled by austerity measures ordered by Macri.

The conservative leader has seen his popularity ratings plunge during a crisis where he has struggled to tame one of the world’s highest inflation rates and poverty has reached about a third of the population. Argentines are also frustrated with high utility costs and the blackout could trigger more protests against Macri’s government just as he seeks re-election in October.

“The country is already in a weird moment and then you wake up and can’t see anything,” said Julieta Dodda, 27, a saleswoman at a clothing store in downtown Buenos Aires. “Many people were going to meet for lunch to celebrate the day. I saw many online who joked: “Happy Father’s Day from Edesur and Edenor, which are our electricity companies.”


Cars drive through an unlit street during a blackout in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sunday, June 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Tomas F. Cuesta)

Energy officials defended the strength of the Argentine system, saying it’s “robust” and exceeding in supplies. But the grid has been known for being in a state of disrepair, with substations and cables that were insufficiently upgraded as power rates remained largely frozen for years.

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.”

The blackout raised questions about flaws in the region’s grid. Although Brazil was spared this time, a similar outage in the region’s largest country left more than 60 million in the dark in 2009, just as authorities scrambled to boost confidence in its infrastructure before soccer’s 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

The power failure on Sunday comes three months after crisis-torn Venezuela suffered its worst power outage with the lack of electricity endangering hospital patients.
Other parts of the world have also been hit by major outages. Bertero said that about 50 million people were affected by a blackout in the U.S. and some provinces in Canada in 2003, and about as many were hit by another in Italy that same year.

Argentina has had a history of blackouts, but none like Sunday’s failure, in which the power outage was more geographically widespread. Only the southern archipelago of Tierra del Fuego was unaffected because it is not connected to the main power grid.

“It’s something that had never happened,” said Alejandra Martínez, a spokesperson for the Argentine electricity company Edesur. 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.


A man stands inside a store without power during a blackout, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sunday, June 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Tomas F. Cuesta)

Uruguay’s energy company UTE said the failure in the Argentine system also 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.

Many residents of Argentina and Uruguay took to social media to post pictures of their cities in the dark. Others blamed the electricity companies or the government or simply lamented that their plans had been disrupted.

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.
“I don’t remember anything like this in Uruguay,” said Valentina Giménez, a resident of the capital, Montevideo. “What is really striking about this is that no one understands well what really happened.”
___
Associated Press writers Patricia Luna in Santiago, Chile, and Natalie Schachar in Mexico City contributed to this report.

 

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