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Originally published Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 9:05 AM

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Rains bring little relief to Brazil energy sector

Recent rains have brought some relief to the depleted reservoirs of Brazil's hydroelectric plants but have done little to dispel concerns over the country's ability to fulfill its energy demands for the year.

Associated Press

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BRASILIA, Brazil —

Recent rains have brought some relief to the depleted reservoirs of Brazil's hydroelectric plants but have done little to dispel concerns over the country's ability to fulfill its energy demands for the year.

A hotter than usual summer and lack of rain have caused water levels at hydroelectric dams in most of the country to drop to a third of their capacity. The levels are similar to those registered in 2001, when rationing was imposed and blackouts occurred.

The government has said Brazil will not resort to energy rationing because the country has thermal power plants that can be activated.

"The situation is worrisome because water levels at the reservoirs remain very low," Claudio Sales, president of the energy analysis group Instituto Ascende, said Tuesday. "All we can do now is to wait for more rain."

Hydroelectric plants account for about 80 percent of the electricity generated in Brazil.

Mines and Energy Minister Edison Lobao has repeatedly guaranteed that Brazil has sufficient energy supplies amid growing fears that power shortages could frustrate the government's 2013 GDP growth estimates of 4 percent.

"Brazil's electricity system is based on several sources of energy," Lobao said in a signed article published Sunday by the Folha d S. Paulo newspaper. "Low water levels at the reservoirs are compensated by thermal plants fueled by natural gas, diesel and biomass energy, and an expanding wind energy sector."

Reservoirs in southern Brazil dropped to 35 percent of their capacity while those in the nation's north dipped as low as 18 percent.

Rains that started falling last week increased levels at reservoirs by 1 percent, according to the Electric Energy System Operator that oversees the power generation, transmission and distribution.

Brazil has an installed power generating capacity 121,000 megawatts, a figure the government says it will double over the next 10 years.

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