Major blackouts in Iran lead to rare apology from president

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – The outgoing Iranian president on Tuesday issued a rare apology for the country’s most serious summer power cuts in recent memory, as power outages cripple businesses and darken homes for hours on end. day.

In a government meeting broadcast live on state television, President Hassan Rouhani admitted that the chronic power outages over the past week had caused “a lot of pain” to the Iranians and expressed his contrition in a speech. unusually personal speech.

“My apologies to the dear people who have faced these issues and this pain,” he said.

In recent days, regular blackouts have wreaked havoc and confusion on the streets of the capital, Tehran and other cities, smothering traffic lights, closing factories, disrupting telecommunications and affecting metro systems. . Repeaters – devices around towns that improve cell phone signals – have failed, as have electronic cash registers.

Some towns in northern Iran reported limited access to water as power cuts affected pipeline supplies. Traffic police in the capital said the sudden power cuts had taken those responsible completely by surprise.

The gradual blackouts gave Rouhani, a relatively moderate who handed over the reins to hard-line president-elect Ebrahim Raisi in August, one of the last domestic headaches of his presidency. Images on social media, widely shared by Farsi-language news channels based outside the country, show popular anger over the power outages that erupt in broad daylight, turning into protests scattered across government offices. local electricity and rallies in crippled streets. In some videos, anti-government chants echo in dark skyscrapers. The Associated Press could not verify the authenticity of the images.

Authorities blamed the blackouts on the sweltering heat in the country, increased demand for electricity and worsening drought that threatened to stifle hydropower production.

Temperatures have climbed to over 41 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit) in Tehran and other major cities. In the southern desert of the country, temperatures reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). This pushes the demand for electricity to new heights, as the Iranians deploy powerful air conditioners against the heat, crushing the power grid. Authorities responded with scheduled power cuts several times a day.

Demand for electricity has peaked in recent days at 66,000 megawatts, exceeding the country’s practical generating capacity by 65,000 megawatts. Companies can actually provide people with even less electricity, closer to 55,000 megawatts, in large part because aging and sanction-stricken power infrastructure leaves power plants prone to repeated technical failures.

Iran’s only nuclear power plant last month suffered an unprecedented emergency shutdown. The facility in the southern port city of Bushehr came back online over the weekend after engineers said they fixed a broken generator.

Electrical installations have not been properly maintained and the lack of spare parts has made it difficult to build new power plants to cope with the rapid growth of the country. Over the past two decades, humble apartment buildings and local markets have grown into skyscrapers, residential complexes and colossal shopping malls, all buzzing with air conditioners.

While power cuts during the sweltering summer heat occur sporadically in Iran, the lack of recent rainfall has exacerbated the country’s electrical problems. Rouhani said rainfall fell by nearly 50% last year, leaving dams with dwindling water supplies to supply the country. Hydroelectric power generation has dropped to 7,000 megawatts, Rouhani said, from an estimated average of 12,000 megawatts in recent years.

“When it’s hot during a drought, we face problems during peak periods (energy demand),” Rouhani added. “(Power outages) severely affect people, businesses, factories and hospitals.”

Officials have suggested that any relief is far away.

“It’s not just one day,” said Mostafa Nakhai, spokesperson for Iran’s parliamentary energy committee. “We will have this situation for at least a month or more.”

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Associated Press reporter Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

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