Argentina’s Energy Secretariat has told the National Electricity Regulatory Body (ENRE) to file criminal complaints against the board of power company Edesur for misuse of funds, fraud against the public administration, and abandonment of persons.
The move comes after over a hundred thousand users were left without power around Buenos Aires in the middle of an unseasonal March heatwave. For many, power cuts not only affect appliances such as air conditioning units and fridges, but also pumps, leaving them without running water.
The Secretariat also called on ENRE to send a report about Edesur’s energy concession to the cross-chamber group in congress that monitors public services concessions, “so it can advise on whether to terminate” it.
Presidential spokesperson Gabriela Cerruti told press on Thursday that ENRE would issue a report on the situation, after which the government would evaluate removing Edesur’s concession. Some 75,000 users had experienced long outages, she said.
Around the city, groups of angry neighbors have blocked highways to demand their power be turned back on. At Edesur’s headquarters yesterday, protesters banging on the windows and attempting to spray paint the building were held back by police. As night fell, they set fires in the street outside the building.
“We must express our deep concern in the face of repeated power cuts taking place at various points of the country, which risk the lives of people who depend on electricity,” said the Argentine Association of Electrodependents, which advocates for the rights of people who are medically dependent on electricity.
The group said that, while it understood that the heatwave was causing “historic” power demand, it also “makes evident the lack of predictability relating to the problems of electrodependent people, negligence, inaction, insensitivity.”
“It is no longer enough to demand that companies invest, and that they deliver generators. We need a contingency plan, concrete action,” they wrote in a statement. Only 10% of the 15,000 users who receive free power tariffs because of their needs have alternative sources of electricity, according to the group.
Last month, the government announced that it would fine Edesur AR$1 billion and impose an external audit of the company after a wave of outages.
Edesur has had the exclusive concession to distribute electricity in the south of Buenos Aires since 1992 — a 95-year contract that expires in 2087. Cerruti said that the way Edesur was privatized in the late 1990s meant that government attempts to make decisions about the company could result in “damages to the state”.
The company is part of the Italian holding Enel, which owns several companies related to the Argentine electricity system. However, Enel announced in November that it would sell its operations in Argentina, as well as Peru and Romania, in a bid to reduce its debt. It said at the time that it hoped the sales would be completed by the end of 2023.
Edesur did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
“Our teams continue to work to fix the failings in the grid caused by the heatwave,” the company Tweeted Wednesday night. “Some of the tasks which will continue through the night are repairing medium-voltage cables, changing fuses, and changing cells in the transformer center.”