Letter from Buenos Aires: no electricity - the big blackout

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Letter from Buenos Aires: no electricity - the big blackout

When there was no electricity, Virginia Tognola started thinking about living differently.


By Sarah John

In January 2022, we had a very bad heatwave. For a short time, Buenos Aires and its provinces were the hottest places in the world. People turned up their air conditioners, power consumption went up, and, of course, there was no electricity, a blackout. For one very hot week, neighbourhoods had blackouts all the time. Power cuts are usual during summer in Argentina, but this year the problem was worse.

Compared to other countries, the price we pay for electricity is still quite low, but prices have been rising. Every time I pay an electricity bill, I say to myself: ‘Damn you, scammers.’ It seems crazy to pay so much for a basic need.

But dependence on electricity is a city thing: in other places people have got used to being without electricity. I was born and grew up in Esquina, a small town. There the power lines are in such a bad state that people can have months of blackouts. Some rural areas still aren’t connected to the power grid. I remember when we went to visit my grandfather. He lived in a place like that. He taught me how to cool environments and liquids without air conditioning or a refrigerator, and how to make more light from candles. I learned how important it is to start the day at dawn and end it at sunset. This makes me think that city people like myself are so comfortable with using too much energy that we can’t think of any alternatives. And, of course, this way of life leads to blackouts.

As I’m a big fan of the hot weather, I was Ok with the blackouts during our heatwave – except for the last night in the dark. I was OK with the terrible heat but I didn’t like being bored. It was one of those hot nights. A storm was coming. I made a cold drink made from juice and yerba mate and last ice cubes from my freezer. I took my book, a blanket, and went to the park near my house. It was the only place nearby with working lights. It was almost dawn, but the park was full of families with chairs, children playing football, friends listening to music, everyone escaping from the heat and the dark.

A friend lives in another part of the city. She called to tell me that they were having a storm, and that in minutes the rain would come to where I was. I wanted to finish a chapter in my book before going back home, but it was too late. The first raindrops started to fall, and soon the storm was chasing everyone away from the park, except for the children playing football. When I got home, I lit some candles and sat back in my armchair to continue reading – what else could I do? And a few hours later the power came back on. The small drop in temperature caused by the rain cooled down the power grid.

As we say here, ‘la saqué barata’ – meaning I got lucky. Some people had no power for up to 10 day.. The government finally decided to make the electricity companies pay fines and they had to pay a refund to affected clients. But it was a small amount of money compared to the losses. People lost all their refrigerated food, and some appliances were damaged.

Of course, the main problem is the companies. They avoid investing in infrastructure. But I started to think that perhaps now is a good time to consider new ways of living without the comforts we all accept. Time to start thinking about the environmental and social consequences from city lifestyles consuming too much.

Recently I heard on the news more warnings of possible power cuts, not just in summer but also in the winter. Maybe they exaggerate, but I am getting ready for a winter with less power consumption, and thinking of alternatives to my electrical heater in case of another blackout.



(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)