By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s recently privatized electricity distribution network on Tuesday again ruled out a return to the severe power rationing of the 1990s amid continuing reports of sporadic blackouts across the country.
A spokeswoman assured that the Armenian Electricity Network (AEN) is not experiencing power shortages despite the continuing non-functioning of the Metsamor nuclear station. The official, Margarit Grigorian, said the power cuts only result from network breakdowns and unpaid electricity bills.
“We are not going to return to the old days because there are no power shortages at the moment,” she told RFE/RL. “Nobody expected such a harsh winter. The network’s equipment is terribly worn-out and just couldn’t cope with it.”
Electricity is the principle source of winter heating for most Armenian households. Its consumption went up dramatically after a cold wave swept through Armenia in early December, keeping air temperatures well below freezing for the rest of the month.
The cold weather, coupled with heavy snowfalls, triggered a chain of accidents in the power transmission and distribution lines, leaving various parts of Armenia without electricity. It usually takes several hours to restore power supplies. AEN officials claim to have already replaced 40 percent of high-voltage transmission cables.
AEN’s new owner, the British-based Midland Resources Holding, is to modernize the Soviet-era network under the terms of the $40 million privatization deal with the Armenian government sealed last August.
Grigorian said the loss-making utility currently receives sufficient electricity from the state-run national power grid, Hayenergo, and pays for it in full despite having difficulties collecting fees from individual and corporate consumers. She again claimed that the authorities’ failure to re-activate Metsamor on time will not lead to a major energy crisis.
The nuclear plant, which accounts for about 40 percent of Armenia’s annual electricity production, was brought to a halt in October for partial refueling. The government hoped to re-activate it 45 days later. However, it has still not secured fresh nuclear fuel from Russia. Talks with the Russian atomic energy agency have not yet yielded any results. The latter is reportedly insisting that Yerevan first repay its $32 million debt for previous fuel supplies.
Sources said the Armenian Energy Ministry now hopes to obtain the fuel by the end of this month. According to Metsamor officials, the plant can be brought back on line no sooner than 25 days after refueling.
The deficit is currently covered by imports of electricity from Iran as part of a seasonal swap of energy between the two neighboring countries. It will be further offset by the re-activation of two major units of the Kanaker hydro-electric power plant in Yerevan which is due next week. Their two-year repair has been carried out by the German engineering firm ALSTOM. The work was financed by a $15 million long-term loan provided to Armenia by the German government.