AIM: start

SAT, 13 OCT 2001 23:50:05 GMT

Kosovo in the Dark

AIM Pristina, September 29, 2001

According to one theory, the dinosaurs became extinct because of their age and weight, but another claims that what destroyed them was lack of food.

Not so long ago, former Kosovo administrator Bernard Kouchner's estimate that Kosovo's thermal power plants would share the fate of dinosaurs was considered typical of a man who are not too familiar with the reality of Kosovo.

Energy and mining already has a mythical ring to them for the Kosovo Albanians. They were the chief economic purpose of Kosovo, its future, capital that would link it with the world, but also a revolutionary force that would help them create and defend their state.

There are analysts who say that the energy situation in Kosovo should not be viewed from the dark side, despite the fact that electricity shortages are long and frequent. Viewing it from a patriotic and revolutionary aspect, they claim that that the situation is only temporary. "We will resolve it as soon as the foreigners leave," they say, accusing UNMIK of having usurped administration of the Kosovo Power Company. In reality, however, the situation is quite different. Kosovo's power plants will fall victim to the first theory on the extinction of the dinosaurs: having enough food, their age and weight will be their undoing.

After the war, the Kosovo Power Company was among the firms that received the most foreign donations. This was explained as being due to the fact that the economic development of Kosovo depends on the electricity supply, as was also perceived by Andy Bearpark, the highest ranking EU official in Kosovo. The total needs of the Kosovo power industry have been estimated at about one billion German marks. The money was supposed to be used to revitalize the company both in production and financial terms, and to provide the population with sufficient quantities of power. Of this, DM700 million has already been invested, and about DM220 million is yet to arrive, according to a report by the pubic service department, which is in charge of all power facilities in Kosovo. According to senior officials, in the July-December period of 2000, DM375 million was invested in repairs and transformation of the energy sector, and the chief donor was the European Agency for Reconstruction.

This year, donors are expected to send about DM330 million. In addition to the European Agency for Reconstruction, other major donors are Great Britain, which has invested DM38.5 million, Germany with DM31.1 million, Denmark with DM24 million, Japan with DM19 million, etc. Through USAID the U.S. has sent DM15 million in assistance for the power distribution system in Mitrovica and Gnjilane municipalities, and for financial management training at the regional level. Last year, the European Agency for Reconstruction invested a total of DM110 million.

This year's goal was to equip local power plants to cover 80 percent of Kosovo's electricity needs. This has almost been achieved: last winter, power imports made it possible to accumulate sufficient coal reserves to secure normal operation of thermal power plants. A regular overhaul of two generators at the Kosovo B plant and emergency repairs at the Kosovo A plant were meant to enable Kosovo to produce 580 megawatts per day.

The biggest investment in the energy sector was made by the European Agency for Reconstruction which approved DM130 million to finalize the reconstruction of the B2 generating block and the overhaul of the B1 block, in addition to DM40 million earmarked for a coal strip mine.

The first generating block of the Kosovo B plant was shut down in April, and its overhaul is supposed to be finished by the end of September. It will cost EUR50 million (DM100 million) and it is being carried out by a German company, Bapcock. Kosovo B director Sabri Hashani said that although a general overhaul was planned only a partial one will be carried out.

In addition to this year's investment, undisclosed large sums of money were also invested in the generating block during the two previous years. Kosovo B's Block 2 was subject to a second phase of overhaul which began in July and was completed on Sept. 11. It cost DM40 million, in addition to DM80 million invested earlier. The entire overhaul was scheduled to be completed on Sept. 15. However, only several days after the repairs the block were generating only 190-200 megawatts of electricity, though according to a contract they were supposed to generate 270 megawatts. The boiler began leaking almost immediately and the block was shut down.

And while more attention was paid to the Kosovo B plant because of its less advanced age, making it easier to repair, the Kosovo A plant was mostly subject to emergency repairs. Being quite old and almost at the end of its lifespan, it is called a "dinosaur" for good reason, but the money invested in it was meant to enable it to make its best contribution to overall power production. The German KWF mostly repaired the A1, A3 and A4 blocks. The repairs at the Kosovo A plant, however, were financed by the Kosovo Power Company and donors. An overhaul of block A4 is still in progress.

There is a big discrepancy between the investment figures and their results, and between the local and foreign staff in the plants. The locals say the repairs and equipment are very expensive, hinting at corruption and embezzlement. International representatives, however, mostly from the European Agency for Reconstruction, say that are providing money and doing the best they can despite frequent cases of sabotage. Boilers are often found to be leaking, shipments of coal often contain mud, and there have been instances of stones being found in the mills where coal is ground, they say. The officials add that that power lines are cut deliberately more often than not.

Such conflicting information indicates that something is not working properly. It is not logical to invest DM120 million in overhauling a power plant to make it produce less. With its 1,350 megawatt potential, Kosovo is generating hardly 400 megawatts today.

What will happen when the winter begins, when the demand for electricity is twice current levels and when industrial production begins? No one seems to have an answer to that, meaning that no one can say how long the dark in Kosovo will last.

Ibrahim Rexhepi