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Venezuela raises electricity rates amid blackouts

Associated Press Modified: June 13, 2011 at 5:00 pm •  Published: June 12, 2011

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan officials announced measures aimed at saving electricity on Monday, saying power consumption must be reduced by 10 percent and warning that hefty surcharges will be imposed on consumers who don't reduce usage.

Vice President Elias Jaua said the measures aimed at avoiding "inappropriate and excessive use" of electricity will force individuals as well as businesses to reduce energy consumption or face fines and possible suspension of electricity services.

The plan was announced after the country was hit by three major blackouts in the past three months.

The most recent outages hit western Venezuela on Friday and Saturday, affecting several states and the country's second-largest city, Maracaibo. The outages began Friday night with the failure of a transformer in Zulia state, officials said. Other transformers exploded before dawn Saturday, affecting the states of Zulia, Trujillo, Merida, Tachira and Barinas.

Under the measures announced by Jaua, Venezuela's biggest energy consumers — industrial firms, large businesses and shopping malls — must reduce consumption by 10 percent during a month-long period that will be compared to the same period in 2009, when the South American country began struggling with power outages.

If those consumers fail to reduce their use of electricity, they must pay a surcharge of 10 percent, Jaua said. The surcharge will increase by 5 percent monthly until consumption drops.

Jaua told a news conference that residential customers will be charged an additional fee totaling 75 percent of their monthly bill if they do not reduce their electricity use by at least 10 percent as compared to the same month in 2009. The surcharge applied to individuals increases to 100 percent or more if the monthly consumption exceeds previous usage by 10 percent.

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