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    Power grid still vulnerable to another fire that could leave half the country without electricity

    March 24, 2023 - CE Noticias Financieras


      At the beginning of March, almost half the country - 20million people - was left without electricity due to a fire. Heat and drought caused a fire that affected the Rodriguez station of Transener, the transmission company of the electricity system. This incident caused the uncoupling of three high voltage lines. Immediately, the power generators were shut down, as a way of defending themselves against the unknown.

      Such an accident could be repeated in the face of a new combination of high temperature and drought. There is no way to protect transmission lines from the impact of smoke from fires. What can be done is to "de-concentrate" the electric transmission and not overly dump it in special areas. Transener has been presenting projects to the Energy Secretariat in this sense.

      But electric transmission works are expensive, have no political impact (they are not usually inaugurated by politicians) and are thought with a decade horizon. Transener has a project for two other stations where its transmission lines run. Had they been in operation, the blackout of early March would not have taken place, according to sources in the electricity sector.

      Argentina's electricity consumption is growing by 3% annually. In addition, renewable energies and other forms of generation that cannot find transmission capacity are being added. The system is almost saturated.

      Transener presented a plan - almost 1,000 pages long - with suggestions to improve the transmission system. Control of the company is in the hands of Citelec, a partnership of Pampa Energía (owned by Marcelo Mindlin) and Enarsa, the state-owned company in charge of gas imports and the construction of the gas pipeline to Vaca Muerta.

      The cut at the beginning of March also coincided with a very high demand (at its peak), and the drought in the fields, which can cause flames. The hypothesis of an intentional fire -suggested by the Executive Power at the time- seems to have lost relevance.

      Transener had a failure of its own on Father's Day 2019, which left the whole country without power. But the March incident would not be its responsibility, according to business sources. The company checks its towers and the vegetation growing in the areas with some regularity, but it does not have fire protections.

      According to specialists, other electric transmission systems - California, in the United States, suffers droughts and fires worse than the local ones - do not have safeguards against this unforeseen event either. The difference is that they have "backup" power plants for such incidents. "They are systems that, when something like this happens, have three backup power plants," they explain. On the other hand, Argentina has no backup in the summer. There is no power plant ready to operate instantly when three transmission lines fail, as happened.

      In his speech at the opening of the legislative sessions, President Alberto Fernandez proclaimed that "Argentina is the energy the world needs". A few hours later, one minute before four o'clock in the afternoon, this statement was boomeranged: a fire caused an electrical incident, unprecedented in four years, which left almost 20 million people without electricity for a period of 3 to 4 hours.

      The power blackout lasted four hours and affected - at different times - almost the entire country: from the northeast to Santa Cruz, passing through Córdoba, Mendoza, Santa Fe and Buenos Aires.

      A fire in a field, in some pastures, caused the stoppage of an electric transmission line that connects Campana with General Rodríguez. Immediately, three high voltage lines went out of service. They are the ones linking the General Rodriguez stations with the Litoral area.

      The collapse of the transmission lines virtually paralyzed the country for almost four hours. Several thermal power stations were "unhooked" from the system and restricted the electricity supply. At around five o'clock, 40% of the electricity generation usually available in the country was out of service. It is estimated that 20 million people were without power at that time.

      The disconnection of power plants is a preventive mechanism in the face of an emergency. They go out of the system for fear of an incident damaging them.


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