Households, businesses suffer as Albania faces severe electricity crisis

08/11/2005

Many Albanians are now going most of the day without electricity, due to a crippling electricity shortage. The country's communist-era hydroelectric plants cannot keep up with demand, and supplies from abroad do not bridge the gap.

By Erlis Selimaj for Southeast European Times in Tirana – 08/11/05

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Tirana is facing power cuts that last the entire day. [Gent Shkullaku]

Electricity restrictions deepened on Sunday (6 November) as the Albanian Electro-energetic Corporation (KESH) extended a mandatory blackout for both urban and rural areas.

The supply of electricity in urban areas is being cut off from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm. In rural areas, the cutoff starts an hour earlier, at 6:30 am. Electricity outages are alternated every two hours after 4:00 pm. In some places, Albanians could face as many as 18 hours daily without electricity.

"Albania is obliged to adopt such a measure as a serious drought has affected hydroelectric power stations," KESH said in a statement. In addition, the energy crisis reflects the poor condition of hydroelectric power plants -- the country's only electricity source -- and the lack of foreign investment in the sector over the past 16 years.

Built during the communist regime, the hyrdoelectric plants were never adapted to handle increased consumption. Rising prices and the fact that some 30 per cent of consumers do not pay their bills have added to the problems.

Albania imports almost 5m kW of electricity a year from Macedonia and Greece, but the amount is nowhere near sufficient. The country is negotiating with other countries, including Ukraine.

"We are continuing the negotiations, as our requests were unplanned and surprising for the Ukrainian authorities. They are considering offering us electricity for the period November-December. The electricity from Ukraine would pass through Romania and Serbia, so we are also negotiating with these countries to transmit the electricity," said Economy Minister Genc Ruli, appealing to the public to conserve.

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"I can understand people's frustration, passing the main part of the day without electricity. But we have to understand that we are in a national difficult situation and we are working to solve it," the minister said.

The rationing is further exacerbating the problems at Albania's water pumping stations, which were already in such bad shape that households could only receive water for about three hours a day.

The toll on Albanian businesses could be devastating. "We are facing problems producing the bread. As a businessman I cannot afford the high costs of using generators, as energy is lacking through most of the day. What are we going to do and for how long will this last?" said one Tirana bakery shop proprietor.

"Our lives are mixed up now; my wife cannot cook the food," said one retiree.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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