Vietnam faces power shortage as drought hurts hydroelectricity

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Vietnam faces a power shortage this year as a drought threatens production of hydroelectricity when economic expansion has increased demand for energy.

Serious dry weather nationwide is significantly hurting water levels in reservoirs used for hydropower production, the government said in a statement on its Web site.

Demand for power is rising as Vietnam's economic growth quickens. The economy expanded 5.83 percent in the first quarter, compared with 3.14 percent a year earlier, according to the General Statistics Office in Hanoi. The government is targeting gross domestic product expansion of 6.5 percent this year from 5.3 percent last year.

The country may face a shortage of almost 1 billion kilowatt-hours as demand is expected to rise as much as 18 percent for the year, the government said, without elaborating. National demand for electricity rose almost 22 percent in the first three months this year, according to the statement.

The government has asked state-owned Electricity of Vietnam to take steps to combat "the serious shortage of electricity."

The national utility has been told "to quickly complete and start operations" at new thermal power plants including Quang Ninh No. 1 and Hai Phong No. 2 in the north and to shorten maintenance periods at coal-fired generators, according to the statement. The company, known as EVN, was also instructed to increase imports of electricity from neighboring China.

Dry weather caused by the El Nino has raised concern that rice crops in the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam and palm oil in Malaysia and Indonesia may be reduced this year, spurring food inflation. Vietnamese Prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung on Monday met premiers from other countries along Asia's Mekong River, including China, to boost cooperation as water levels fell to the lowest in three decades.

The El Nino weather phenomenon, characterized by warmer sea-surface temperatures across the equatorial Pacific, can cut rainfall in Asia.

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