Utility regulators formally approved on Tuesday a 10 percent increase in the price of electricity supplied to Armenian households, ignoring protests from the country’s leading opposition groups and angry demonstrators.
The Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) stood by its justifications for the measure at a heated discussion that was also attended by opposition and civil society representatives. It again cited significant financial losses incurred by the Electricity Networks of Armenia (ENA), the Russian-owned national power utility.
Robert Nazarian, the PSRC chairman, said the tariff rise will earn the ENA 20 billion drams ($50 million) in additional annual revenue that could be used for repaying the company’s debts to Armenian power plants. He claimed that failure to address the ENA’s financial problems would jeopardize nationwide electricity supplies.
Armenia -- Robert Nazarian, the chairman of the Public Services Regulatory Commission, speaks in parliament, 17 June, 2014
“Of course this will add to people’s socioeconomic burden,” Nazarian said at the two-hour meeting. “Of course this could lead to increases in the prices of basic foodstuffs. But these are consequences that have to be dealt with by relevant bodies.”
“Financial grounds are not enough to justify this measure,” countered Aram Manukian, an opposition lawmaker who spoke on behalf of four opposition parties represented in the Armenian parliament. Manukian said that the price hike would increase poverty in the country.
Manukian and other critics attending the PSRC session also argued that the electricity price already soared by almost 27 percent as recently as in July last year following a surge in the cost of Russian natural gas supplied to Armenia. They said the ENA has since operated at a loss only because of poor management.
In the meantime, more than a hundred angry citizens demonstrated outside the PSRC offices in Yerevan that were cordoned off by riot police. They threatened to break into the building after the regulatory body initially refused to allow their representatives to participate in the meeting.
Some of them went on to block an adjacent street in the city center. Police officers at the scene used force to unblock the street but refrained from arresting anyone.
As many as 27 people were detained on June 24 when the police broke up a similar protest outside the PSRC headquarters. The police actions were criticized by Armenia’s state human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian.
Valeri Osipian, a deputy chief of Yerevan’s police department who usually leads riots police units, was in a far more conciliatory mood on Tuesday, publicly telling his officers not to detain anyone and asking the protesters not to heighten tensions.
Two of those protesters were eventually allowed to attend the PSRC meeting. “You’re not going to get away with this decision. I’m not going to pay up,” one of them shouted at Nazarian and four other members of the state body.
The daytime electricity price in Armenia has stood at 38 drams (9 U.S. cents) per kilowatt/hour since July 2013. Households will be charged almost 42 drams per kilowatt/hour starting from next month.