Guri’s recovery – Good news, bad news, no news

Managers of Guri Dam in eastern Venezuela opened the floodgates Aug. 29 as water levels approached their maximum. This is certainly notable, as everyone was talking just a few short months ago about the posibility of the biggest dam in northern South America running so low on water that some generation would have to be halted.

Good news: The government is portraying this as good news, evidence that a rationing and conservation plan paid off. This is sort of true, as slashing production at the state aluminum and steel mills cut power use.

Bad news: Petrofinanzas does a good job of seeing the cloud on this silver lining. That is that the floodgates were opened, rather than using the water to generate power. The daily electricity system report shows that Edelca, the utility that manages the dams, produced a maximum of 229 gigawatt-hours of electricity in the days since the floodgates were opened. To convert that into how much power is being produced — that is, how many turbines are spinning — you divide gigawatt-hours by 24 hours (because it’s a one-day period) and get the number of gigawatts — 9.54 gigawatts of turbines were spinning on average. That is 68% of the utility’s total installed capacity of 14 gigawatts. Now, nobody ever produces 100% of installed capacity, because some units are being maintained and most should be run more slowly than 100% power. But two-thirds of installed capacity is low. So ok, it’s bad news.

No news: The Venezuelan commercial press seems to have ignored the news. I haven’t seen a single photograph or article about the floodgates opening. Ultimas Noticias, a pro-government tabloid, had a story quoting the vice-president saying that the dam was full. The government accepted the donation of electoral arguments from the self-proclaimed unbiased press.