A State of Emergency in the Energy Sector: Will Ukraine Have Electricity, Given the Coal Blockade in the Donbas?

At a meeting of staff working on the energy crisis, the Ukrainian Minister of Energy, Ihor Nasalyk, announced that his agency, the Ukrainian Ministry of Energy and Coal Mining, has decided to introduce a decree for government consideration that declares the country’s power grid to be in an a state of emergency due to the anthracite coal deficit. The coal deficit has been caused by the commercial blockade of the uncontrolled territories (where anthracite is mined), which war veterans of the Donbas conflict have been carrying out for nearly three weeks. The introduction of a state of emergency in the energy sector means the entire energy system will be set to work at minimal thermal generation levels.

"We have prepared a decree on temporary emergency measures in the electricity market, and in the near future will bring it to the Cabinet of Ministers," said Nasalyk. The decree will be put under consideration at the next Cabinet meeting.

Vsevolod Kovalchuk, the acting director of operating company “Ukrenergo”, which deals with the integrated power system in Ukraine, claimed at the same meeting that the introduction of a state of emergency for the energy system would stretch current warehouse stores of anthracite coal at thermal power plants by 40 days. He added that for different plants, this period could vary from 14 to 100 days.

According to Kovalchuk, after all the reserves of anthracite have been used, it will be necessary to resort to power outages for customers on a specially developed schedule.

Anthracite reserves currently constitute 997,000 tons, as said by Minister Nasalyk, and will last for 40 days. To buy coal abroad generally requires a waiting time of about two months. Therefore, blackouts could begin in late February or early March. And they are likely to impact seven areas - Kharkov, Dnipropetrovsk, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Zaporizhia, Sumy and Cherkasy.

"The staffs of these regions must analyze crisis situations that may be associated with these energy supply restrictions. First and foremost, they must ensure power and heat for the population. They should also consider the work of industrial enterprises operating continually, from the point of view of peak daily operational schedules," said Deputy Prime Minister Hennadiy Zubko during the meeting at anti-crisis headquarters.

Veterans of the war in the east of Ukraine and community activists who support the blockade of the Donbas have accused the government of manipulating electricity supply.

The leader of the civil initiative “Prava Sprava” ("Just cause"), Dmytro Snehiryov, said in an interview to website 24 that those who have business in the occupied part of the Donbas are in no hurry to block the trade with the separatists.

"The situation with the coal supply is a corrupt scheme. When they now raise the issue of energy security as a result of the commercial blockade, it is an outright lie. Currently, warehouses hold about 2.3 million tons of coal, which is sufficient for at least another two to three months. Average consumption of coal is about 500-600 thousand tons per month; the calculation is not difficult. All the manipulation regarding blackouts is blatant subterfuge," Snehiryov said.

Ukrainian MP Volodymyr Parasyuk, who is a participant in the commercial blockade of the uncontrolled territories, said that in the case of rolling blackouts of electricity, blockade participants will take control of the power stations.

Parasyuk added that the share of coal in the blocked compounds of the uncontrolled territories is about 20%. He also said that he had visited the Kramators'k thermal power station (TPS).

"We figured out the situation for possible power outages in the case that there is no anthracite supply. There [at the TPS], they said that there would be no cuts because the basis of the energy sector in Ukraine – and I'm talking about power - is nuclear power plants ... Stopping TPSes should not cause even one percent of damage to the consistency of the energy supply," said the MP.

He also added that the facilities could switch to gas, as Kramatorsk TPS has done.

"Regarding heat – well, that is a separate issue. You can abandon anthracite coal groups and replace them completely with gas. Despite the fact that NERC [National Electricity Regulatory Commission - the agency that sets the rates] has already included the price of gas into the tariffs ", explained Parasyuk.

Anatoly Vinogrodsky, who is one of the organizers of the commercial blockade of the Donbas and a veteran of the war in the east of Ukraine, said that in the case of rolling blackouts organizers of the blockade will bring the people to nationalize those enterprises which will be involved in turning off the electricity. He also called on the authorities "to stop deceiving people."

Vinogrodsky claims he has personally been to Sloviansk TPS and saw that there is enough coal to last through March 28th. The veteran also explained why the government is manipulating electricity.

"We have long been paying for coal, which has to come from either South Africa or America .The original cost of anthracite, according Vinogrodsky, ranges from 400 to 700 hryvnia; and it is sold for 1900 hryvnia, "that we are paying in fees," Vinogrodsky stated. The veteran said that such tariffs were introduced to ensure the energy independence of Ukraine from the Donbas coal.

"We have paid the tariffs, and the dependency has not disappeared, for two and a half years already," said Vinogrodsky.

  Ukraine, Donbas, coal, blockade

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