By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia’s Russian-owned electricity exporter announced Tuesday that it has nearly tripled its supplies to Georgia despite its earlier threats to halt them altogether due to a sharp rise in the cost of power transmission initiated by the Armenian government.
“The volume of energy exports to Georgia has increased almost three-fold since February 1 and reached 150 megawatts a day,” the spokesman for the International Energy Corporation (IEC), a Yerevan-based subsidiary of the Russian UES power utility, told RFE/RL.
The official, Mikael Balayan, said the supplies are continuing despite financial losses incurred by his company which sells energy generated by the thermal power plant in the central town of Hrazdan. The plant was last week formally handed over to UES in payment of Armenia’s state debt to Russia.
IEC warned earlier that it will have to raise the price of electricity, mainly supplied to Tbilisi, unless the Regulatory Commission on Natural Monopolies reconsiders its December decision allowing a state-run company that runs Armenia’s high-voltage lines to drastically increase its transmission fees. The commission dismissed the warning, saying that the company can still export the electricity at a profit.
For its part, the Tbilisi power operator, also owned by UES, threatened to stop buying the electricity if it costs more than the existing price of 2.54 U.S. cents per kilowatt/hour. The statement was followed by Georgian Energy Minister Mamuka Nikolaishvili’s visit to Yerevan on January 22. Nikolaishvili reportedly discussed with Armenian officials ways of easing his country’s severe power shortages.
Meanwhile, a senior Russian government official who sealed the Hrazdan plant’s transfer to UES said on Tuesday that Armenian electricity could soon be exported not only to Georgia but also to neighboring Iran and even Turkey. Russian media quoted Deputy Prime Minister Boris Alyoshin as telling President Vladimir Putin that Moscow should therefore consider taking over and completing the construction of Hrazdan’s largest Fifth Unit that was not covered by the Russian-Armenian debt settlement.
Armenia has for years engaged in a seasonal swap of electricity with Iran but has so far been unable to export its electricity surplus to Turkey due to the absence of diplomatic relations with the latter. Visiting Yerevan last fall, top UES executive sounded optimistic about their chances of cutting a deal with the Turks.
According to IEC’s Balayan, the Russian energy giant has not yet started official negotiations with the Turkish government on the subject. “But this project is seen as promising and is currently in the development stages,” he added.
Asked whether politics still stands in the way of Armenian power deliveries to Turkey, Balayan said: “UES is primarily involved in business, not in politics.”