Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The regional energy war is in full swing


While Latvia and Ukraine also pledge to cut off their electricity purchases from Belarus, where the Ostrovec nuclear power plant has recently been commissioned, partly for the purpose of exporting electricity, their imports have so far jumped.

Ukraine imported a record amount of electricity from its neighbor Belarus in 2020, but in January 2021 it even surpassed that, according to an article in the regional news portal bne IntelliNews, which analyzes energy battles in the region. Ukraine purchased 183 million kilowatt hours of electricity from Belarus in the first month of this year, according to data from Ukraine’s national energy provider Ukrenergo. With this, Belarus carved out the largest share of imports, with more than 67 percent of electricity imports coming from there to Ukraine.

With that, they bought more electricity from the neighbor than in 2020 as a whole, when 153 million kilowatt hours were imported. The reason for the strong imports is partly the weakening of the Ukrainian domestic energy sector, the attempts to operate power plants with dangerously low coal supplies, and most of the coal is now imported from Russia. Belarusian exports jumped in part because of the commissioning of the Ostrovec nuclear power plant, which is related to the planned Paks II. Its power generation ran up in January.

More than I should

The power plant, built with Russian funding, will produce much more electricity than Belarusian users need. The Minsk leadership hopes that relying on nuclear power can reduce the country’s dependence on Russian gas and oil, supply electricity to the Belarusian economy and generate extra revenue from electricity exports to neighboring countries, the Baltics and southern Ukraine.

Lithuania has opposed the construction of the power plant from the beginning, which is only 70 kilometers from Vilnius. The Lithuanian government went so far as to distribute iodine tablets to all residents of the capital and held evacuation simulations in preparation in the event of a disaster in Ostrovec. Nevertheless, the Baltic states increased their electricity imports by 350 percent in January this year compared to a year earlier, relying on the nuclear power plant as a new source.

They will cut it

At the same time, Lithuania threatens to cut once and for all the pipelines that connect to the late Soviet electricity supply. Of the important transmission lines remaining from the Soviet era, two were shut down in January on the grounds that repairs were to be made to them. At the same time, they did not go so far as to cut off all electricity transmission connections from Belarus.

Ukraine’s new energy minister, Yuri Vitrenko, also left no doubt that greater Belarusian electricity imports would be seen as a temporary solution to supply the country. According to him, one of his most important tasks in his new position is to prepare his country for the separation of Russian and Belarusian energy supplies.

The country’s electricity supply is to be solved from Europe, where the market is transparent, prices are determined by supply and demand, not political intentions. Vitrenko was previously one of the leaders of the Ukrainian state gas supplier Naftogaz, successfully negotiated with Gazprom before an international arbitral tribunal over a previous payment disagreement and was able to bring the new Russian-Ukrainian gas transit agreement under cover.

Politicized business

Russia’s Roszatom, of course, claims that the concerns of the Baltic states are unfounded, that their technology, which is also used in Ostrovec, is safe and able to meet the conditions of the strictest international safety standards. According to the editors of the regional news portal, the point is that the issue of electricity exports from the Belarusian nuclear power plant has been heavily politicized from the beginning, and has become even more so.

As long as Belarus is headed by Alexander Lukashenko, who has certainly re-elected himself president in August 2020 on a large scale, no country that imagines itself to be a bit western will buy electricity from Belarus. Even then, there would be no economic and environmental benefits from using Ostrvec’s energy.





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