Macedonia Has Five More Days To Catch Last Train for Belene

Friday, September 12, 2008

Macedonia has five more days to decide how it will deal with the energy crisis that is threatening the region. Experts believe that one of the more favourable options would be to strike a deal with Bulgaria on power supply through subventions from the new nuclear plant that is being constructed in Belene. The documents that Nova Makedonija has come across indicate that the financial construction of the Belene project -- which commenced on 3 September -- is drawing to a close and that the last package of the technical project should be approved by 15 September at the latest. This means that, unless an agreement is reached on our participation in the Belene project in the remaining few days, Macedonia will depend on the import of expensive electricity for decades, unless it gets involved in other serious energy investments. Generally speaking, this will have a negative effect on the population's standard of living because the price of every product is related to the price of the basic energy source -- electricity.

"The Republic of Macedonia has so far not submitted an official request to participate in the Belene project. The Economy and Energy Ministry of the Republic of Bulgaria, as the state where the power plant will be constructed, has not received a request from Macedonia," diplomatic sources have told us.

Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov invited all the regional states as early as 2005 to take part in the funding of the Belene power plant construction, whereby they would make their own contribution to the future power supply by means of subventions.

"Still, the Macedonian authorities have not taken any serious steps to date. Various delegations have visited Bulgaria on several occasions, but without any specific results," our sources say.

The Economy Ministry and the government have not replied whether Macedonia will participate in the Belene project.

We have learned that the government's intention is to invest in its own production facilities.

Whatever for Do We Need a New Long-Distance Pipeline Without Electricity?

The absurdity of the entire affair over the procurement of electricity from Bulgaria may be described with the construction of the latest 400-kilovolt long-distance pipeline Stip-Crvena Mogila, which should be completed soon.

"Why do you need this long-distance pipeline with Bulgaria when you do not have an agreement on import of electricity," foreign energy experts ask. Does Macedonia plan to sell electricity to Bulgaria through this long-distance pipeline?!

"In order for the investment in this long-distance pipeline to pay off it needs to be charged with electricity. If it remains empty, it is worth nothing," experts say.

"It is too late now. Other states are literally fighting to join the Belene project, while we are keeping quiet. This is the largest investment in Europe, so we should have already gone to the prime ministerial level for Macedonia to rent part of the nuclear power plant. It appears that the problem in our country is that we prefer to import than to build," Mechanical Engineering Faculty Professor Atanasko Tunevski says.

Yesterday Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski stated that the ELEM's [Electric Power Plants' Association] request for a 40% increase of the electricity price was justified and inevitable. Yet, such an increase of the electricity price will not affect the people to the same extent, because the increase among them will amount to about 15- 16%, Gruevski consoled the public.

Foreign businessmen who come to Macedonia are primarily interested in the electricity price, cheap labor force, and the tax advantages.

"All the other measures would be in vain if electricity is expensive. Investors come, but they do not bring electricity with them," diplomatic sources say.

The electricity that we currently import costs 92 euros per megawatt hour. The production price of REK [mining-energy combine] Bitola is 21 euros per megawatt hour. We have learned that the average cost of the electricity that will be produced in Belene will amount to 3.5-4 euros cents per kilowatt hour. In 2007 the EU gave the highest remarks on the Belene project in terms of its protection of the environment, ecology, modern technologies and security systems, and the emission of exhaust fumes.

Each Country With Its Own Nuclear Plant

The countries in the region solve their problem with electricity in different ways. Serbia is relying on Russia's gas. Slovenia has its own nuclear plant in Krsko, which Croatia, too, uses occasionally. Greece, as an EU member state, has a special energy policy based on the advantages of EU membership. Romania is investing in its own nuclear plant, and Albania, too, is thinking of constructing its own power plant. Macedonia is relying on its own resources and the import of electricity. Every year our country spends 300 million euros for power supplies.

There was an idea for the construction of a nuclear plant in Macedonia, and Mavrovo was mentioned as the location for this. Still, experts say that nuclear plants are usually built near large rivers in order to cool down the reactors, but Macedonia does not have the possibility for this.

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