Venezuela Begins Rationing Electricity to Combat Power Outages

Venezuela will soon begin rationing electricity in several regions because of recurring power outages, the country's energy minister said Wednesday.

Ali Rodriguez said he has ordered authorities to start scheduling rolling blackouts in affected regions and informing residents when they will be implemented. He did not provide details or say how many of Venezuela's 24 states would be affected.

The plan was presented three days after Venezuelan officials announced measures aimed at saving electricity. They say power consumption must be reduced by 10 percent and have warned that hefty surcharges will be imposed on consumers who don't reduce usage.

Venezuela has experienced three major blackouts in the past three months.

The most recent outages hit western Venezuela last week, affecting several states along the border with Colombia and Venezuela'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.

The state-run utility company, Corpoelec, is working to replace the damaged transformers.

Opposition politicians contend the government hasn't invested enough in new electrical projects to keep up with growing demand.

Government authorities concede that delays in several initiatives designed to boost electricity output are partly to blame for recent blackouts, but they have also suggested that government adversaries are sabotaging the electricity grid and trying to pin the blame for outages on President Hugo Chavez.

Officials have not presented evidence of sabotage and opposition leaders deny the accusation.