Thursday, December 07, 2006

Lack of electricity leads to rationing in Macedonia

The lack of electricity in Macedonia is causing the country to ration power to large companies this winter. The government has denied allegations that electricity rationing could be imposed on the general public. Helping to avert that possibility, equipment at the TEC-Negotino thermo-electric plant was started up just before the cold weather set in.

Despite the quick save, problems remain complex. Domestic production and regional imports are both inadequate. In addition, production at TEC Negotino -- the most effective energy complex in Macedonia -- is expensive and unprofitable. The plant has not been operating on a regular basis and is held in reserve for times of crisis. Production at TEC Negotino is fueled with crude oil and costs 4.4 denars per kilowatt.

Meanwhile, the government announced earlier this month that a privitasation tender for the plant was cancelled due to bidders' demand for a change in the contract terms. A new tender is expected soon.

Macedonian Electric Transmission System Operator (MEPSO), the company responsible for the country's electricity transfer, announced a tender for procurement of 957 MWt hours -- 30% of the total amount of energy Macedonia needs -- by April 2007. Serbian EPS and Bulgarian NEK notified MEPSO that they could not provide energy by that deadline. The region in general is facing a shortage, particularly because Bulgaria is closing down the second and third reactors at the Kozloduy nuclear plant.

Energy production for homes relies on two other large coal-fueled plants: REK Bitola and TEC Oslomej. Production at REK Bitola is 3% lower than expected due to low-quality coal. The 200,000 tonnes of coal stock is sufficient for 15 days of production. TEC Oslomej has coal supplies for 37 days of interrupted production, 27% less than planned.

Hydro power plants in Macedonia operate very successfully. For the first nine months of this year, the plants produced 153% more energy than planned. However, even with the excess output, hydropower can provide only a small percentage of the necessary amounts.

Macedonia needs twice as much energy as is being produced currently. Some economic experts, however, see the situation as a good sign. The increased demand suggests a reviving economy, demonstrated by the re-activation of plants and factories.

To respond to energy challenges, the government has been considering several approaches. To start with, it plans to organise a campaign to promote energy conservation.

For the longer term, the economy ministry says it will announce a tender for the construction of new electricity sources as soon as possible. Two of these projects are the Cebren and Galiste hydropower plants on the Crna Reka River. Construction of Cebren will cost 338.3m euros and should result in the production of 347 MWt/h of power. Galiste will cost 200.2m euros to construct, and should produce 193 MWt/h. The plants are expected to be completed in seven years.

The government also plans to encourage use of alternative sources -- such as introducing gas into the energy system for direct household usage. Environmentally friendly power sources -- including small hydro electric plants, solar energy and wind energy -- are also being explored.

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