By Atom Markarian
The government approved on Thursday the main principles of an ambitious plan to replace Armenia’s collapsing system of central heating which has long ceased to serve the majority of households.
The three-stage program aims to replace the existing Soviet-era boilers across the country with new, much smaller and more economical ones within the next six or seven years. Officials said it has also won the approval of Western donors who have pledged to provide $12 in loans and grants for its successful implementation.
“Our calculations show that the new system of central heating will be more cost-effective and beneficial for the country,” Deputy Finance Minister Meruzhan Mikaelian told reporters after a cabinet meeting chaired by President Robert Kocharian.
The existing system has steadily eroded and disintegrated since the Soviet collapse. Thousands of boiler stations that used to supply heat and hot water to homes during cold winter months went idle at the start of severe power shortages in the 1990s. Most of them remain out of service and in need of substantial investments, meaning that only 10 percent of the country’s population has access to central heating. Only a third of the households pay for it, causing additional losses to the already inefficient network.
The overwhelming majority of Armenians heat their homes using the more expensive electricity, wood and coal.
Mikaelian said that instead of restoring the old boilers, the government has decided to put in place new, smaller heating facilities along with a more effective mechanism for collecting bills. But he gave no estimates as to the total cost of the planned undertaking, saying only that the donors are expected to foot a considerable part of the bill.
The entire program on central heating is expected to be adopted by the government later this year.