Albania Blacked-Out in Power Crisis : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Albania Blacked-Out in Power Crisis

TIRANA--Albania saw a repetition of the electrical blackouts that have plagued the nation for the past decade when the country's struggling electric utility, the Albanian Electric Energy Corporation (KESH), imposed regular four-hour blackouts last week. The outages have been occurring four times a day, at two-hour intervals.

This past year's sparse rainfalls have meant low water levels in the Drin River, which feeds the three main hydropower stations in the country. The stations produce more than 80 percent of the country's electricity. In early October, KESH was producing 7 million kwh per day, compared to what was then 14 million kwh to 15 million kwh of demand. The company can only import 6 million kwh from neighboring countries because of its obsolete power grid. KESH said it will continue rationing power throughout the winter, when consumption demand increases to about 20 million kwh.

The company has been facing collapse since the mid-1980s, as its lack of funding has rendered it incapable of dealing with increasing consumption. Energy theft remains endemic, and 16 billion lek ($108 million) in unpaid energy bills have accumulated over the past four years. Most of the debt is from government institutions: Albkromi, the state-run chrome mining and processing corporation, which has experienced serious financial difficulties since the early 1990s, owes KESH a total of 1.7 billion lek. Other mining companies, such as the Albbakri copper corporation and the Albpetrol oil company, are similarly overdrawn.

Domestic consumers account for about two-fifths of unpaid energy bills. While KESH is experimenting with a meter that operates by an electronic chip card to monitor energy spent in households, many individuals have rigged up parallel connections to networks that are not metered. The government is also continuing to subsidize electricity costs, amid fears that higher prices would cause revolt. "If we would have raised the price by at least 6 percent every year since 1990, we would have had enough money to build another power station," a KESH official was quoted as saying in the Tirana business daily Ekonomia.

Forcing domestic consumers to pay was also unsuccessful. In 1998, KESH established a task force to collect overdue bills, but it has not been effective and two directors have already been replaced. This year KESH decided it would arm the members of the force with revolvers, as extra persuasion to errant bill-payers. But in September, when the company cut off electricity in Valias, a former mining town about 10 kilometers from Tirana that did not pay its bills, dozens of men ransacked the local KESH office.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 17, 2000

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