By Heghine Buniatian
The government will inaugurate Armenia’s first-ever wind power plant soon in line with its promises of greater reliance on renewable sources of energy, officials said on Wednesday.
The facility is being built in the northern Lori region with equipment donated by Iran. Its four wind turbines will have a combined capacity of just over 10 megawatts, enough to meet much of the electricity needs of the regional capital Vanadzor and surrounding villages.
Aleksandr Kocharian, who heads a department on renewable power at the Armenian Energy Ministry, told RFE/RL that the $3 million project will be complete “in a few months.” He said it will mark the first step in the implementation of a government strategy of increasing the presently modest share of renewable sources in Armenia’s electricity output.
Nearly 40 percent of it is provided by the nuclear power station at Metsamor which is facing uncertain future due to serious safety concerns raised by the United States and the European Union. The Armenian government has been under strong Western pressure to shut down the Soviet-era plant as early as possible and is already considering possible ways of substituting for it.
One of several realistic options is increased use of Armenia’s fast-flowing mountain rivers that already for account for 20 percent of power generation. According to Kocharian, the country has the potential to meet as much as 70 percent of its energy needs with renewable sources such as water, wind and the sun by 2020.
Kocharian said 16 small hydro-electric plants have already been built in recent years and their number will grow further in the near future. He also pointed to plans by the Armenian and Iranian governments to jointly build a much bigger plant on the Arax river separating their countries.
Armenia’s switch to renewable energy is encouraged and even sponsored by Western donors. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, for example, will launch this spring a $12 million scheme designed to provide cheap credit to local firms keen to build small hydro-electric and wind plants.
In a separate move, Germany’s state-run KfW bank will allocate 7 million euros ($9 million) later this year to finance repairs to be conducted on Armenia’s old hydro-electric plants.