The region braces for winter in the face of new electricity conditions.
By Alexander Pavlevski and Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Skopje and Zagreb -- 09/10/12
Kozjak hydropower plant on the Treska River, southwest of Skopje, has a projected average annual production of 150 GWh. [Aleksandar Pavlevski/SETimes]
Stubborn dry conditions in Southeast Europe pose a threat to energy supplies this winter, officials said, as low reservoirs at hydroelectric plants could lead to increased imports of power – and new price increases.
Much, however, depends on the autumn rain.
According to the latest JSC Macedonian Power Plants data, the level of reservoirs in Macedonia is now 50 percent of total stored water, normal for this time of year.
If there is not enough autumn rain, hydroelectric power stations will not be able to yield enough power -- a serious problem for the country, since 20 percent of its electricity is derived from the plants.
"Total available accumulation for electricity generation is now around 50 percent. But Macedonia and the Balkans have dry periods, with high temperatures that reduce much of the water in the reservoirs. …We hope water levels improve with rainfall in the last quarter of the year," Mirce Kotevski, JSC Macedonian Power Plants spokesperson, told SETimes.
"No water in the lakes is a clear indicator there will be a shortage of electricity. I'm afraid that if there are electricity imports in the winter it will be expensive. This disaster will affect the economy," Jadranka Misevska, a consumer from Kumanovo, told SETimes.
"Given the current situation in the region and global forecasts, there may be a water shortage, but we hope it will not happen," Vlatko Cingoski, director of JSC Macedonian Power Plants, told SETimes.
Record low water levels in the Danube are an additional risk for the Balkans, along with a region-wide low river tide. The conditions could mean stiff consumption restrictions, an increase in electricity prices and a boost in high-cost power imports to meet the demand.
In Croatia, the cost of household electricity and gas already went up in May this year --- gas by 22 percent, electricity by 20 percent -- with another 10 to 40 percent expected.
On September 18th, the country's State Electric Company (HEP) set the new price of electricity -- up 37 percent in seven cities -- for nearly a million people that rely on the company's heating system.
Record low river water levels have pushed up power prices across the Balkans and may force local utilities to further boost expensive power imports to meet demand. [Reuters]
Citizens are unhappy, calling on the authorities not to allow a new blow to household budgets.
"I'm heating an apartment of 56 square meters and it costs 50 euros [per month]. According to new regulations, that amount will rise to nearly 80 euros. I earn 500 euros per month and another cost of 30 euros per month is too high for me," Berislav Zgonjanin, a tool factory worker from Zagreb, told SETimes. "Why don't the authorities try save on something else, not on the citizens."
"We are aware of the citizen's difficult financial situation, but the authorities must understand us also, and act responsibly towards the state company so that heating supply for the citizens is not questioned in the upcoming winter months," Robert Krklec, director of HEP's heating system sector, told SETimes.
Management of the state heating plant in Serbia requested an increase in heating costs up to 40 percent, while in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) the increase is 30 percent. In Macedonia, on August 1st, electricity for the second time this year rose by about 10 percent.
Albanian data shows that in August the country increased electricity imports four times. BiH's Electro Privreda (EP) reduced production by nearly 50 percent.
"In the first half of the year, production from hydropower plants covered only 18 percent of total production," Mirsad Sabanovic, the head of supply and trading for EP, told SETimes.
Though 40 percent of its electricity is derived from hydropower, BiH still imports electricity. Macedonia is currently on the market for electricity, and Croatia imports nearly 70 percent of its energy.
"If we decide to import [electricity], it means that 40 megawatts will not be produced in our hydroplants," Cingoski told SETimes. "We'll save water for the future, in the winter months when the electricity price will be high if the autumn stays dry."
According to electricity production traders, hydropower production in the region from October 2011 to March 2012 was the lowest in the last 15 years, with 11 terawatt-hours -- 56 percent below average.
Power imports are one of the measures taken to meet the demand and increase the supply in Southeast Europe. [Reuters]
Traders said more rain is needed for a sufficient electricity supply. The Balkans produce about 25 percent of total energy from hydroelectric power plants, but in the first half of the year, the production yielded only 16 percent.
Nikola Rajakovic, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Belgrade, said that measures should be taken to avoid possible regional electricity restrictions in the upcoming winter months.
"Because of the lack of electricity from hydropower plants in Serbia and the region, we should immediately take appropriate measures to avoid potential problems and restrictions in the supply. We need to see where, how, and how much power should be purchased to meet the consumer needs during the winter," Rajakovic told the media.
According to the energy strategy of the Macedonian Academy of Arts and Sciences, to be adopted by 2018, the state must invest nearly 1.5 billion euros to construct facilities that will contribute towards a significant reduction of electricity imports, which can be costly.
In the last six years, the government has failed to find an investor for several hydropower plants, reinforcing Macedonia's dependence on costly imports.
"Electricity imports are growing year by year and are now at above 35 percent, while in 2000 Macedonia did not import electricity at all. If the country's need for electricity was met through energy facility investments, Macedonia would not have to depend on expensive electricity imports," Anatansko Tunevski, professor at the Skopje Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and an energy expert, told SETimes.
"Rainfall will save the situation. Last winter we had a lot of snow, so can it happen now. But maybe thermoelectric plants could work more, if hydropower plants don't meet the quota," Nikolas Krstevski, a Skopje consumer, told SETimes.