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Venezuela to mull electricity offers from Colombia, Brazil

Caracas, Feb 17, 2010 - EFE - Eergy Central

The Venezuelan government said it will consider electricity offers from Colombia and Brazil, a day after indicating the country could find its way out of a severe power crisis with domestic supplies, state-run media reported Wednesday.

Venezuela is experiencing critical electricity shortages that could cause a collapse of the power grid in the short term. The crisis has forced the government to declare a state of emergency and launch an energy-saving plan in Caracas that includes fines and even suspensions of service for excessive power consumers.

"Once the offers have been finalized, we will consider them," Electricity Minister Ali Rodriguez said in comments reported by the official ABN news agency.

Colombia announced that soon it will formalize the electricity offer it made on Monday to Venezuela and which was rejected the same day by that nation's Vice President Elias Jaua, who said Caracas is "busy and working" to generate its own alternative electrical system.

"In the month of May, the electrical system will normalize around the country," the vice president added, referring to the start of the rainy season in Venezuela.

Colombian Mines and Energy Minister Hernan Martinez subsequently said that after the offer is made official on Thursday he will wait for a formal response from President Hugo Chavez's government.

"If there's some offer from Colombia, we'll analyze it, just as Brazil has also made us an offer ... and once (it is finalized) we'll consider that one as well," Rodriguez said.

He added that for the Venezuelan government increasing domestic power production is a bigger priority than importing electricity from its neighbors.

Regarding the Brazilian proposal, Rodriguez said it would involve Venezuela ceasing to supply that country with 80 MW and, on the contrary, starting to import electricity from Brazil.

President Hugo Chavez last week decreed an "electricity emergency," which will allow the transfer of resources initially destined for other sectors and force medium and large businesses in Caracas - both public and private - to cut power use by 20 percent under threat of fines or suspension of service.

Those measures are in addition to a program of rolling blackouts that was implemented nationwide last month, though quickly halted in Caracas.

A report released in December by the state-owned Corporacion Electrica Nacional predicted a nationwide collapse of the electricity grid by May at the latest if water levels continue to fall at the Guri hydroelectric dam, which supplies about 70 percent of Venezuela's electricity.

The government attributes the crisis to a severe drought, while the opposition says the Chavez government's lack of foresight and investment in electricity projects over the past decade is to blame.

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