By Atom Markarian
Armenia and Iran deepened on Tuesday commercial ties between their energy sectors, accelerating construction of an Armenian-Iranian gas pipeline and announcing plans to double mutual electricity supplies.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and Iranian Energy Minister Habibollah Bitaraf attended the official start of work on the 42-kilometer Armenian section of the pipeline. “The construction is to be complete before January 1, 2007, after which it will be possible to connect the gas networks of Armenia and Iran,” Markarian’s spokeswoman, Meri Harutiunian, told RFE/RL from Agarak, southeastern Armenia.
Armenia will be able to receive up to 1.7 billion cubic meters of Iranian gas after the pipeline goes into service. The figure approximately equals the present level of Armenian gas imports from Russia.
Markarian and Bitaraf also attended a separate official ceremony that inaugurated the second high-voltage line transmitting electricity to and from Iran. Officials say the line will enable the two neighboring states to double the volume of their seasonal energy swap.
“The new high-voltage line will also raise the reliability of the Armenian and Iranian energy systems,” Harutiunian said.
The two projects are financed with two Iranian loans worth $38 million. The Armenian side is to repay them with supplies of electricity from an old thermal power plant in Yerevan. The Soviet-era facility is expected to be modernized with a $140 million loan promised by the government of Japan.
It could thus seriously compete, in both domestic and external markets, with Armenia’s largest thermal plant located in the central town of Hrazdan. It was handed over to Russia last year in payment of Yerevan’s $100 million debt to Moscow. The Hrazdan plant is currently run by Russia’s state-run power utility, RAO Unified Energy Systems (UES).
Incidentally, the chairman of the UES’s board of directors, Aleksandr Voloshin, was in Yerevan on Tuesday, meeting with President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian officials. A brief statement by Kocharian’s office said Voloshin, who headed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s staff until recently, discussed the company’s activities in Armenia.