By H. Prado
From the 3rd to the 22nd of November, citizens of the state of Amapá suffered from two power blackouts, in which 13 out of the 16 municipalities were affected. In total, 765 thousand people were impacted, and many had to endure the rationing of electricity for at least 16 days.
Chronology of the blackout
Beginning on the 3rd, the shortage of electricity was guaranteed to last for a maximum period of six days according to the Minister of Energy, who claimed that energy supply would be reinstated to 100% within that period. Unfortunately, this was not the case, with only some neighbourhoods in Macapá and Santana regaining power on the 7th but doing so on a rotational system, where areas had energy for merely six hours. This excluded the ones providing essential services, such as hospitals.
On the 11th, an operation with the hydroelectric power plant of Coaracy Nunes was created, increasing the rationing of power to 11 other municipalities in a 4-hour interval, oscillating between even and odd days.
Nevertheless, 6 days later another blackout occurred due to problems with energy distribution, further hampering the efforts that had been made to re-supply areas with energy. While this second shortage was quickly solved, areas outside of the 13 municipalities or outside of Coarcy Nunes’ range remained without power until the 24th, when, two days after President Bolsonaro’s visit, 100% of energy supply finally returned.
Uncertainly, the electricity shortage is believed to have been caused by an explosion and subsequent fire on an energy station belonging to Linhas de Macapá Transmissora de Energia (LMTE). This fire damaged three of the companies’ energy converters, and its fourth one, which would usually serve as a backup, was undergoing maintenance, meaning that no secondary resources had been allocated in case of emergencies like this.
In relation to the cause of the explosion, the National Agency of Electrical Energy (ANEEL) and the National System Operator (ONS) are working alongside each other to determine whether the shortage was due to negligence on LMTE’s behalf or if it was caused by natural phenomenon. Regardless, the municipal police have ruled out the thunderstorms that were originally mentioned by the company as the trigger of the event.
Furthermore, as Amapá was originally an isolated region from the rest of Brazil’s interlinked national electricity system, it used to be reliant on thermal power plants which have since then been turned off. This then meant that the state was heavily dependent on the energy station that connected it to the rest of the country, resulting in even fewer power reserves.
Impacts on the population
Clearly, the lack of power intervened with water supply, pumping of gasoline, purchase and storage of goods and internet and telephone services, meaning that citizens were in a truly precarious situation. Despite that, hospitals reported that there were increases in child vomit and diarrhoea cases due to the poorly refrigerated foods they were consuming. Additionally, as shopping centres were operated on the basis of generators, there was an augmentation in the gatherings held, especially as citizens went to malls to have access to power outlets and internet. In turn, this would supposedly increase the number of COVID-19 cases in the area, but hospitals stopped counting coronavirus cases because of the lack of power and no means to communicate them to the State. Lastly, government officials decided to postpone the elections that would have been held on the 15th to the 27th of December, so that the population would be able to vote.
After the shortage was resolved, the Federal Government passed a law to indemnify Amapá’s citizens for the blackout through credit in their electricity bills. This is predicted to come from R$ 69 million from an increase to each Brazilian citizen’s power bill, so that the total value is accumulated.
Conflicts and future solutions
With many disputes over the event, including over 120 protests, government critiques and the surfacing of the hashtag #SOSAMAPA, the power deficit will hopefully serve as a catalyst for electrical reform so that no shortages like this are repeated throughout the country.