Officials Search for Answers in Extensive Brazil Blackout
Officials in Brazil and Paraguay were still searching for answers late Wednesday to explain the failure at the Itaipú plant, which straddles the border between the countries along the Paraná River and is a critical source of power for both nations.
For more than two hours late Tuesday, the failure of three transmission lines that deliver power from the plant created a domino effect, cutting off electricity to 18 of 26 states in Brazil, including the country’s two largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Tens of millions of people were affected. Airports in several cities were briefly shut down and passengers had to be pulled from subway cars in São Paulo when the system lost power.
Much of Paraguay, which suffered several brief power failures in the past week, was also blacked out Tuesday night for about 20 minutes.
Electricity system operators said that there was no evidence of sabotage and that the most likely cause was an unexplained atmospheric disturbance, like heavy rains or winds in the area. “The system is not fragile, it is one of the strongest and most secure in the world,” said Edison Lobão, Brazil’s energy minister.
Still, energy experts in both countries said the widespread blackout showed the potential weaknesses in Brazil’s transmission system and the need for better management of the interconnected electrical grids.
“This was a management failure,” said Ildo Sauer, a professor of energy at the University of São Paulo. “There is not a lack of generation capacity, there is not a lack of transmission capacity, there has not been a lack of investments” in the sector, he said. “What is lacking is management, command and control of the operations.”
But Professor Sauer also said that the blackouts showed that reforms of the electrical grid made in 2003 and 2004, after a series of blackouts, “were not sufficient.”
The system failure was reminiscent of the blackout of 2003 in the American Northeast and Midwest, the country’s widest electrical blackout in history, affecting 10 million people in Ontario, Canada, and 45 million people in eight American states.
For Brazilians, Tuesday’s blackout brought back painful memories of energy shortages in 2001, which led the country to intensify its push for more supplies of natural gas and hydroelectric power. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, then the president, instituted nine months of energy rationing, and the country’s energy shortcomings were blamed for a considerable decline in Mr. Cardoso’s popularity as he ended his second term in office.
Tuesday’s failure was not related to a shortage of energy, officials insisted, but a disruption in transmitting it. Since 2001 Brazil has diversified its energy supply and has avoided widespread shortages.
The failure occurred at 10:13 p.m. local time. It affected the southeast of Brazil most severely, leaving São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo completely without electricity. But blackouts also swept through parts of other states like Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso, Bahia and Pernambuco, energy officials said.
By 12:30 a.m. power had been restored to most areas.
Itaipú’s problems also affected parts of Argentina that share interconnections through Brazil and Paraguay. The plant supplies about 20 percent of Brazil’s power and 90 percent of the energy consumed by Paragua