Power in my hometown

An article in Express today reminded me about what always frustrated me and always will about Prishtina: power blackouts.

The summer of 1999 was the year we moved back to Kosova, from British Columbia. No electricity was a novelty – we stockpiled candles and had little gas burners to make coffee with. It was fun for about two seconds. Then winter came. The power schedule changed constantly, and was unreliable at the best of times – at one point I think it was something like four hours without power, four hours with, or eight hours without, and four hours with. No electricity meant no heating for our apartment building in January, no hot water for showers or washing clothes, our kitchen being set on fire by a late-night power freak-out, and attending high school classes in semi-darkness.

KEK, Kosova’s Electricity Corporation, is a dinosaur left over from communist Yugoslavia – I’m no technology expert, but coal-based energy produced by antiquated, post-WWII machinery is probably not sustainable. The power plants Kosova A and B are located not too far from the city of Prishtina, and columns of smoke and dust (about two hundred tonnes of it) have become part of the capital city’s skyline. It seems like a waste to have invested 800 million euros on maintaining the existing structure for the past ten years, rather than rebuilding from the ground up.

Anyway, now that Kosova is independent and a member of the World Bank, there are new possibilities for solving its energy problem. Kosova has vast resources of lignite (about one billion tonnes), an unrefined type of coal – coal isn’t the cleanest option, but it is the cheapest and most convenient. The frustrating part: USAID (a huge source of donations for Kosova since the end of the war, and one of the bodies that provided foreign consulting for Kosova’s Ministry of Energy) and the World Bank have different ideas on how Kosova’s energy problem should be solved.

USAID envisions announcing a tender for a power plant with a 1000 MW capacity to be built over the next five years, and one with a 1100 MW capacity over the next ten years. This should be able to replace power plants Kosova A and B, which only produce electricity at less than half of their capacity anyway. The World Bank thinks this project is too huge and too environmentally destructive. The option provided by the World Bank is one power plant with a 1000 MW capacity, with further power plant construction to be discussed later on.

The American option allows for more dramatic change, will probably employ more people, and will create a situation in which Kosova will be able to export electricity as well as produce it. Though I also wonder exactly how clean any type of energy produced from coal can really be, not matter how modern and sophisticated the technology – it would probably be more responsible to build one lignite-based plant now, and explore other energy options later on.

Apart from what the new infrastructure will look like, even bigger problems have to be considered: KEK has always been overseen by the government – if and when it is privatized, what kind of oversight will be set in place for Kosova’s only energy provider? How will the tender be negotiated to make sure the money that will come out of new power plants will go back to Kosova, and not to a private, foreign company? Also, how can Kosova abide by the EU’s carbon emission standards with an energy infrastructure that is entirely lignite-based? And third – no deal can get off the ground without the approval of Kosova’s Ministry of Energy and Ministry of Finance – and both ministries have differing views on how to reform Kosova’s energy production. The Minister of Energy, Justina Shiroka Pula, thinks the World Bank’s plan is the better choice, while the Minister of Finance, Bedri Hamza, prefers the American option.

Whatever ends up happening, I hope two things will not be swept under the rug: a deal that will ensure oversight, and a plan to minimize the environmental risks as much as possible.                                                                                                                       

                                                                     Prishtina III

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