Brazil Blames Vast Blackouts On Short Circuits
By Dialogo November 18, 2009Blackouts that darkened much of Brazil last week were caused by short circuits in a power substation that prompted the shutdown of three key transmission lines from the planet's second-largest hydroelectric dam, officials said. The short circuits happened Nov. 10 at the substation in the Sao Paulo state town of Itabera while lightning, wind and intense rain were pummeling the area, Brazil's Mines and Energy Ministry said in a statement, but it did not say weather caused the problem. Mines and Energy minister Edison Lobao came under criticism last week for blaming severe weather, though experts said the area experienced no lightning strikes. The blackouts raised questions about Brazil's ability to supply a stable energy supply for World Cup football competition it will host in 2014 and for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro. More than 60 million people lost power for up to four hours in 18 of Brazil's 26 states. All of Paraguay was briefly darkened and 7 million people in Sao Paulo lost water service. The short-circuits prompted the automatic shutdown of the lines that carry energy to much of Brazil from the Itaipu dam straddling the border with Paraguay, the statement said. And the loss of power from Itaipu triggered automatic orders that shut down other Brazilian power plants, including the nation's two nuclear generators. It was the first time that Itaipu — which provides about 20 percent of Brazil's electricity — had been shut down in the dam's 25-year history. The dam was the largest producer of electricity in the world until China's Three Gorges dam recently surpassed it. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Monday on his weekly radio show that an investigation will determine why the short circuits happened and that his administration will work hard to make sure similar outages don't occur. Lobao said last week that the transmission lines were knocked offline because of the storm. That prompted confusion and criticism because the National Institute for Space Research said that satellite images indicated the closest lightning strikes were at least six miles (10 kilometers) from the affected transmission lines. Organizers of the 2016 Olympics are pitching host city Rio de Janeiro as a potential "power island" immune from blackouts, though experts have said that creation of such a safe energy haven would require large investments. Both Rio and Sao Paulo — South America's largest city — were completely darkened during the blackouts.