By Emil Danielyan
Iran's Energy Minister Habibollah Bitaraf was due to arrive in Armenia late on Monday for a three-day official visit that will focus on the implementation of multimillion-dollar energy projects agreed by the two neighboring states.
Officials said Bitaraf will meet with President Robert Kocharian and other senior Armenian officials to review the growing bilateral cooperation in the area of energy. According to the Armenian energy ministry, topping the agenda of the talks will be the ongoing efforts to expand the seasonal swap of electricity between Armenia and Iran.
Armenia imports electricity from Iran in the winter when its hydro-electric power plants operate at a fraction of their capacity. Iran, by contrast, needs additional energy during its hot summer months and receives some of it from Armenia.
An Armenian-Iranian joint venture is currently constructing a new high-voltage transmission line and power exchange facility in the southeastern Armenian province of Syunik. The new facilities will allow an increase of the annual volume of electricity exchange from the current 200 Megawatt to 350 Megawatt.
The Iranian and Armenian energy officials will also discuss plans for the joint construction of a major hydro-electric power plant on the river Arax which marks the border between the two countries. A tentative agreement on the project was reached last year. The two sides have since been conducting feasibility studies.
Bitaraf is also likely to review the long-running preparations for the construction of a 140 kilometer pipeline that would carry Iranian natural gas into Armenia and possibly other countries. Work on the $120 million project has been repeatedly delayed due to disagreements over the price of Iranian gas and uncertainty over sources of pipeline funding. Some Russian and French energy companies have reportedly expressed their interest in the undertaking but have taken few practical steps so far.