By Atom Markarian
The government on Friday promptly denied having any plans to introduce electricity rationing that were reported by Armenia’s recently privatized power distributor.
The Armenian Electricity Network (AEN) announced the previous night that it is experiencing power shortages and will stop its supplies to most Armenian homes for four hours a day starting from Friday. The company blamed the energy crisis on the disruption last week of two pipelines transporting Russian natural gas to Georgia and Armenia.
However, the Energy Ministry in Yerevan was quick to refute the “incorrect information,” saying that Armenia generates sufficient electricity to maintain its round-the-clock supplies. “That was simply the result of a wrong interpretation by Armenian Electricity Network company of instructions received from the Hayenergo central power grid,” the ministry said in a statement. “There are and will be no power cuts in the country as existing capacities satisfy our domestic needs.”
Most Armenians have painful memories of the early 1990s when they lived with only a few hours of electricity a day. Renewed power blackouts could therefore strengthen public disaffection with the government, which would in turn have a negative impact on President Robert Kocharian’s reelection chances.
Incidentally, the AEN statement announcing electricity rationing was distributed only to the pro-opposition “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily. Contacted by RFE/RL, a spokeswoman for the company promised a comment, but could not be reached afterwards.
Russian officials, meanwhile, were due to repair the damaged sections of the pipelines in the North Caucasus and resume supplies to the gas-fired thermal power plants in Georgia and Armenia. Russian President Vladimir Putin, in televised comments on Thursday, told the chief executive of the Gazprom monopoly to ensure that the repairs are completed “within 24 hours.”
Reports from Tbilisi said that Georgia, which was hit particularly hard by the cut-off in the vital gas supplies, began importing electricity from Russia in a bid to alleviate its severe energy crisis. The Georgian Energy Ministry said it expects that the pipeline repair will also result in the resumption of seasonal power supplies from Armenia.
Armenia, which also relies heavily on thermal power plants, has avoided power cuts thanks to its Metsamor nuclear power station which was reactivated on Monday after standing idle for three months. Metsamor’s director, Gagik Markosian, told RFE/RL on Friday that the plant is gradually stepping up power generation and will operate at its full capacity next week.
In addition, Armenia imports power from Iran as part of a seasonal swap of energy between the two neighboring countries.