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Caribbean & Central America - May 2013 (ISSN 1741-4458)

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Energy crisis: On 7 May the government of President Ricardo Martinelli declared a state of emergency in four regions - Coclé, Veraguas, Los Santos and Herrera - and ordered several energy-saving measures to avoid the imposition of scheduled blackouts. This as a result of power shortages caused by a lack of rain which saw water levels in the reservoirs of Bayano and Fortuna, the country’s largest, fall to just one metre above their minimum level. According to the latest figures from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), “hydroelectric power accounted for almost 60 percent of Panama's electricity generation in 2010, with most of the remainder attributable to oil-fired thermoelectric plants”. The measures, which took effect on 8 May, called for air conditioners in public sector offices to remain off while the private sector was recommended to apply this between 11am and 3pm (although companies which specifically required the use of air conditioners for their services were exempt). Public schools and universities were also closed between 8-12 May. On 8 May the Panama Canal authority (ACP) also announced special energy saving measures such as suspending the use of hydraulic assistance to help push ships out as they leave locks and placing two ships in a lock at a time rather than one. The various measures, which were coordinated by Panama’s public services regulator, Autoridad Nacional de los Servicios Públicos (Asep), the national power company, Empresa de Transmisión Eléctrica, S.A. (Etesa) and the national dispatch centre, Centro Nacional de Despacho (CDN) provoked an angry response from private sector lobbies such as the Asociación Panameña de Ejecutivos de Empresa (Apede), which held the Etesa management responsible. In a strongly worded statement Apede declared it “unacceptable” that “after 14 years of private investment, the electric energy service is not more reliable and efficient”.