By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s national power utility did not rule out more power cuts on Friday as it continued to cope with the consequences of serious accidents that left much of the country without electricity on Thursday.
Officials at the recently privatized Armenian Electricity Network said its emergency teams worked overnight and are still busy restoring power lines disrupted by what they describe as a network overload resulting from a heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures.
“Everything possible is being done to eliminate the consequences of the breakdown,” an AEN spokeswoman, Margarit Grigorian, told RFE/RL.
Officials at the Armenian Energy Ministry similarly assured that the energy distribution network is being rapidly restored. There were no reports of any major power outages in Yerevan and other parts of Armenia.
Most of the Armenian capital, which had its first snowfall this week, had no electricity throughout Thursday -- its worst energy crisis in several years. Power supplies were largely restored by midnight though.
It is still not clear precisely what caused the blackouts. The AEN official initially reported a chain of accidents at the city’s transmission stations and cables caused by increased use of electrical heaters. But on Friday she blamed the power cuts on a serious disruption of a high-voltage transmission line near the Vorotan hydro-electric power plant in southeastern Armenia. She said AEN might resort to more power rationing until the connection is restored.
The situation is exacerbated by the continuing delay in the re-activation of the Metsamor nuclear power station which was brought to a halt for annual refueling last October. Negotiations are still going on over the terms of supplies of fresh Russian nuclear fuel to Armenia, despite President Robert Kocharian’s assurances on December 3 that they will be completed “in a few days.”
The plant’s director, Gagik Markosian, did not announce any specific date for its long-awaited delivery after returning from Moscow late on Thursday. “The Russian side assured us that our fuel is ready and, after some issues are clarified, will be delivered to Armenia in a few days,” Markosian told RFE/RL.
The Armenian government owes Russian nuclear operators $32 million for previous fuel supplies and needs $6.7 million to underwrite another Metsamor refueling. The Russians are apparently seeking additional payment guarantees.
The Energy Ministry, meanwhile, claims that Metsamor’s standing idle is not responsible for the latest energy crunch, arguing that Armenia’s thermal power plants generate enough energy to make up for the deficit. But officials there admit that with nuclear energy twice as cheap as that produced by the thermal plants, every day of Metsamor’s stoppage means substantial financial losses for the country.