By Atom Markarian
Armenia’s natural gas distributor said on Tuesday that it has nearly doubled the number of its subscribers this year and plans to attract hundreds of thousands of others in the near future.
According to Karen Karapetian, the chief executive of the ArmRosGazprom (ARG) operator, as many as 170,000 Armenian households have had their gas supplies restored since January, raising the total number of gas users to almost 370,000.
“No other gas company in the world can boast such a growth,” Karapetian told hearings in the Armenian parliament. “It might be argued that our [subscriber] base was low, but that would not be quite true. The base is quite serious.”
Karapetian added that more than half a million other households across the country can be quickly connected to the centralized gas supplies in the coming years and are regarded by ARG as “potential subscribers.”
Gas is increasingly used by Armenia’s population for heating purposes more than a decade after the collapse of the Soviet-era system of central heating that covered most urban areas. It resulted from a severe energy crisis that gripped the landlocked country in the early 1990s, at the height of its armed conflict with Azerbaijan.
Armenian households stopped receiving natural gas at the time. Many of them still heat their apartments and houses with the much more expensive electricity. The gas supplies began to be slowly restored only in 1997. The process gained momentum in 2001.
Families that want to use the relatively cheap and clean fuel have to pay between $100 and $200 to become connected to the ARG network. Many of them still can not afford that cost though.
Still, Karapetian argued that gas is much cheaper than electricity. Armenians heating their homes with the invisible fuel will save a total of $70 million during this winter season and at least $140 million during the next, he said.
The skyrocketing number of customers has been accompanied by ARG’s attempts to raise the retail price of its gas imported from Russia. Those attempts have so far been blocked by state regulators. However, they will almost certainly give in if Russia’s state-run Gazprom monopoly presses ahead with its reported intention to raise the wholesale price of gas delivered to Armenia from $56 to $120 per thousand cubic meters.
“The Russian government and Gazprom have not raised such issue with us yet,” Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian said last week. But he acknowledged that the price hike would create a “fairly difficult situation for our economy, energy sector and population.”
(Photolur photo: Karen Karapetian.)