By Emil Danielyan and Karine Kalantarian
The city of Yerevan faced on Thursday its worst power blackouts in several years after a series of accidents at its recently privatized energy distribution network.
Many parts of the Armenian capital were left without electricity throughout the day as energy officials scrambled to cope with serious disruptions which they blamed on a network overload resulting from heavy snow and freezing temperatures. Some city neighborhoods still did not have power as of late evening.
A spokeswoman for the Armenian Electricity Network (AEN), the national power utility, said the cold snap which hit Armenia this week led to increased use of electrical heaters and put low-voltage transmission lines under greater strain. The official, Margarit Grigorian, told RFE/RL that some key cables and power distribution stations broke down as a result.
For most Yerevan households, the expensive electricity has been the main source of heating since the end of crippling energy shortages seven years ago. Like the rest of the country, they had only a few hours of electricity a day between 1992 and 1996. The energy crisis still evokes painful memories among many Armenians.
The latest power outage raised fears of another protracted crisis lying ahead. But Grigorian ruled out a return to the severe power rationing of the early 1990s, saying that AEN workers will fix the technical failures.
There was also speculation that the national power grid may be short of energy now that the nuclear power station at Metsamor, which accounts for about 40 percent of Armenia’s annual electricity production, is not operational. The Metsamor plant’s only functioning reactor was halted in October for regular maintenance and refueling.
Its reactivation, due last week, has been indefinitely postponed due to longer-than-expected negotiations between Armenia and Russia on planned supplies of Russian nuclear fuel. The Russian side is apparently seeking additional guarantees that Yerevan will pay for the fresh and past fuel deliveries. Metsamor’s director, Gagik Markosian, was on Thursday in Moscow, holding talks with Russian atomic energy officials on the issue.