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It's Blackout Season Again in Honduras

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As if it didn't have enough problems already, Honduras is having to endure a severe shortage of electricity, which has caused the National Electric Power Company (ENEE) to begin rationing power. For at least four hours a day, there is no electricity in the country. In Tegucigalpa, the blackouts are scheduled from 6-8 am and from 12-2 pm daily. The problem primarily has to do with a heightened drought situation, mainly in the southern parts of the country. Because of a lack of rainfall, water levels at major dams such as El Cajón are too low to fully fuel hydroelectric power plants. But this phenomenon is nothing new for Hondurans. There are serious droughts almost every summer, and so the power shortages are easily predictable.

Consequently, one of the priorities of recent governments has been to build new dams and hydroelectric stations, wind farms, and solar farms. In some cases, the work has been completed and Honduras has gradually increased its power generation capacity. In other cases, notably with regard to dams, the work has been delayed by conflicts over land rights with indigenous groups or the government's failure to fully compensate people for the sale of their property in order for construction to proceed. Regardless, Honduras remains a net importer of electricity. According to the Central American Integration System's (SICA) Regional Operator Entity (EOR), during the first quarter of 2014, the consumption of electrical power in Central America grew by 211.4 percent, compared to the first quarter of 2013.

According to EOR statistics, in 2013 Guatemala was the Central American leader in terms of the sale of electricity, with 478,359.4 megawatts per hour (MWh) sold, followed by El Salvador with 98,888.6 MWh, and Panama with 71,231.6 MWh. On the other hand, El Salvador topped the region with regard to the purchase of electricity, with 382,091 MWh bought, followed by Honduras with 116,893.5 MWh and Panama with 75,247.6 MWh. These sales and purchases are made through the Electric Interconnection for the Countries of Central America (SIEPAC), which consists of 1,799.9 kilometers of power lines and 15 substations that generate 230 kilovolts (kV).

There are no easy short-term solutions to Honduras' electricity shortage. The most obvious quick-fix would be to buy more power from Guatemala. Presidential hopeful Yani Rosenthal, a Liberal member of Congress from the department of Cortés, agrees, but he notes that it's not as simple as that because of the substantial costs involved. "In my opinion the most viable way at this time is to import energy, but it is difficult. We know that the SIEPAC is saturated, and it sells to those willing to pay the most. We understand that there are countries that are paying more, but even then [the system] is saturated, and so the energy that Honduras would import would be expensive," said Congressman Rosenthal.

There are two longer-term solutions being considered by the Honduran government and business leaders. The first is the privatization of ENEE. That's a politically-charged proposal, because it would mean the laying off of hundreds of workers, reducing pay and benefits, and eliminating certain guarantees provided to public employees. Then there is the proposal being floated by the business community to allow major companies to bypass ENEE and buy directly from private suppliers in Honduras or from Guatemala. This would give more flexibility to Honduran companies and allow them room to negotiate more favorable pricing terms for themselves. The downside? It would make ENEE increasingly irrelevant and further contribute to its financial demise. Big dilemma.

Of course, there is always the option of praying for more rain. But that's hit or miss, even in extremely devout Catholic countries. In the meantime, wealthy Hondurans will continue to rely on their diesel-powered generators for backup, while most Hondurans will just have to conserve power, particularly at peak usage hours (12 noon, 2 pm, 6 pm, and 8 pm), and make due the best they can... which is what Hondurans always do.