Due to a bad drought that’s dried up the hydroelectric plants that supply more than two-thirds of its power, Venezuela has been suffering through its worst energy crisis in the last 50 years. President Hugo Chavez’s solution? Change all the light bulbs! Well, that might not be the only action the country is taking (they’ve also put electricity rationing into effect) but an army of Venezuelan soldiers has been given direct orders from the president to distribute thousands of Firefly energy-efficient CFL bulbs. The big switcheroo may not make it rain, but the president sure hopes that it can cut the energy his citizens consume in the meantime.
In terms of slashing electricity use, it doesn’t help that Venezuelans are the highest energy consumers per capita in Latin America. In fact, state run electricity company Corpoelec says Venezuelans use more than 1,000 kilowatt hours a year per person than the second biggest users in the region, Chile.
In order to distribute the low-energy bulbs, troops have teamed up with volunteers from the local community council in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, San Augustin. Of people’s reaction, Miriam Parra de Gonzalez, an activist with the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), observed, “People have reacted well on the doorsteps because it saves them money. The incandescent light bulbs wear out more quickly and these ones use less energy, so they last longer – Plus we’re giving them away for free!”
BBC points out that while the new bulbs will help people save money and energy, they might also help generate awareness too. Venezuela’s oil resources have lulled its citizens into a false sense of security for years – and this power crisis has been a rude awakening. The president of Corporelec and vice-minister for electrical energy, Javier Alvarado, said, “For many years, we have had the huge oil income and, you know, you kind of get spoilt. You get used to an easy life.”
Not everyone is liking the government’s heavy handed approach, however, which includes a fierce public education campaign and fines for industrial and major domestic energy consumers. Businesses are concerned that the forced blackouts, electricity rationing and heavy fines may severely effect Venezuelan productivity.