September 9, 2008

Iran’s Esfahan TV Puts People’s Complaints to Local Electricity Official

At 1725 gmt on 8 September, Iranian Esfahan provincial TV broadcast a scheduled 30-minute programme entitled: Response. The live weekly programme invites local officials and puts the questions and complaints it receives from the people to the officials. The programme presenter says that the programme is doing that in a "direct and frank" manner.

The guest of this week's programme, in the studio in person, was Engineer Hushang Falahatian, the managing director of Esfahan Regional Electricity Company and chairman of the company's management board.

First the programme presenter introduced the guest of the programme. The presenter said that he had received many emails, letters, telephone calls and sms messages from viewers and that he would put those questions and complaints to the official. One complaint raised by the viewers of the channel was about the people's anxiety about the recent power cuts. Viewers wanted to know whether or not the daily power cuts would continue during the fasting month of Ramadan. The presenter said: "We want to establish whether the promise that the power cuts would stop from 1 Mehr [22 September] was just an empty promise or that it would become a reality?" He asked Eng Falahatian to respond.

Eng Falahatian said that in the course of the programme he would explain the main issues related to this. He said the officials of the Energy Ministry had already promised to do their best so that there would not be any power cuts very early in the morning when the people were beginning their fast and in the evening when they were about to break them. He said the promise was made on the basis of an anticipated usual weather temperature around this time, i.e. becoming cooler. He said "unfortunately that has not happened". The presenter interrupted the official, saying that "the weather is already becoming like the autumn". Falahatian smiled and accepted that the weather had become colder and said "we did not have power cuts neither yesterday nor today, because electricity consumption has been reduced". Electricity consumption goes up in summer because in hot weather people keep their air conditioning on all the time.

In a long-winded response, Eng Falahatian said: "We promised the people that the possibility of power cuts is minimal very early in the morning when people begin their fast, but at peak times, which includes the time when the people break their fast, we are possibly going to be forced to cut the power in some parts of the province."

The presenter interrupted the official again, saying "as the time of the programme is limited, we have to listen to much shorter explanations. If you allow, we stop you at the moment and let you listen to what the people have to say".

A series of recorded interviews with members of the public in streets of Esfahan are shown. A man says that he experiences power cuts twice a day where he lives. A young man says this is "at least twice" where he lives. The correspondent asks: "Has the power been cut three times in the day?" The young man says power cuts rarely happen three times per day, but it does sometimes. Another man says in the current week he has seen power cuts "twice a day, once at around noon and once after 2230". A man complains, saying: "It is not at all clear when the electricity is going to go. Sometimes it goes at noon, sometimes in the morning, sometimes at night; this is sheer incompetence!"

Esfahan TV correspondent asked a young woman about the electricity cuts. She said: "Definitely once a day, but some days twice per day." Most of the people interviewed disagreed that power cuts would lead to saving energy. The young man said: "They cannot save electricity this way. If they engage in a proper campaign it would work much better. You see, saving electricity is very different from this kind of power cuts, because people's lives and works are severely interrupted this way." The young woman says: "I believe saving electricity is good if a culture of saving energy is promoted, but this way, some people may panic and even consume electricity in an incorrect manner." The correspondent said: "You mean they leave all their electricity consumption for when the electricity comes back?" The woman agrees. One man complains that he had to wait two hours at an office because there was no power. The woman complains that electricity cuts are very bad for motors in the refrigerators. A man complains that when the electricity returns it is much stronger than 220 volts and one of his chargers was burnt out. Another man said that his TV set and computer were both broken as the result of the electricity cuts. A man complained that no-one knows when the electricity is going to go. A young man said: "We have a bunch of really compassionate and kind people. They put up with eight years of war and the damages caused by it. Then they had to experience eight years of reconstruction, then eight years to prove themselves to the world, and now that they have to live in peace and comfort, are unfortunately faced with many problems such as power cuts, gas shortages in the middle of winter and so on." The correspondent asked: "Do you think that power cuts have direct links with water shortages, or there are other reasons for it?" The man said: "No, there are other reasons too. I believe management weakness is a contributing factor."

Back in the studio, the presenter said that these interviews were carried out earlier in the day. The presenter asked Eng Falahatian about compensation given to the people or companies which have suffered damages as a direct result of the power cuts. Eng Falahatian said: "Allow me to analyse the reason for the power cuts up to a point to inform our dear people. This year the country's maximum electricity consumption reached over 37,600 MW. Last year the figure was 34,700 MW... What has happened this year is, at a time when in the south of the country we have a capacity to produce 7,400 MW of electricity from our hydro-electric power plants, the current production of these power stations has been reduced to over 500 MW because of water shortages. The true capacity of these power plants around this time has been around 6,000 MW which has been reduced to 500 MW. That is the country is faced with a shortage of 5,500 MW of production capacity from hydro-electric power plants." He continued by explaining the efforts of the officials to solve the electricity shortages and did not answer the question about compensation for the people and companies which had suffered damages as a result of the sudden power cuts. The presenter said: "Please do not forget, I asked you a question!" Eng Falahatian said: "The introduction to my remarks became too long, please allow me to answer your question in the second part of my remarks." The manager of the Esfahan electricity company said: "The dear viewers must pay attention that in case of power cuts they must disconnect their electrical equipment or install protection devices to their electrical equipment. They can find many of these in the market. If a dear subscriber has not done any of these things, then it is possible that electrical equipment may be damaged as a result of the power cuts. Therefore, I should answer the question by saying that if a person has paid attention to the points which I mentioned - disconnected his or her TV set as soon as the power cut took place and if our officials pay a visit to the place and find that despite the installation of appropriate and standard protection equipment to electrical equipment they have been damaged, then the electricity companies must pay compensation."

A video compilation shows offices full of electrical equipment and people working with them.

The presenter again asked the official to avoid such long answers and respond to the questions briefly. The people have asked why Esfahan is facing more power cuts than other cities. Eng Falahatian said parts of the country had more electricity than they needed and some parts had too little.

Responding to a viewer's comments that "weak management" had played a part in the current electricity problems, Eng Falahatian said, "despite the fact that I have been asked to be brief, your questions require some explanation". He then began another long comment, comparing different parts of the country and their electricity needs. He said different parts of the country produce and consume different amounts of electricity and transferring them from one place to another is "very restricted" and therefore power cuts are also at different levels in different parts of the country.

Finally, the presenter said that the energy minister had denied that the country was selling electricity to neighbouring countries while the country was facing electricity shortages. He said that electricity was being transferred from province to province inside the country, but not to other countries.

The programme ended at 1755 gmt.

Originally published by Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Esfahan Provincial TV, Esfahan, in Persian 1725 8 Sep 08.

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