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Will the powerlines run between Belarus and Europe?

The future construction of a nuclear power plant in Belarus will put the country before a surplus of electric energy. Is there a possibility of bridging the energy gap between Belarus and Europe?

By 2020 the Belarusian nuclear power plant  in Ostrovets composed of two power blocks producing 1,200 MW of electricity each will support 42% of the total electrical production for the country. What the country will do with the surplus of energy is currently a debate in the works.

 

Between gas and electricity

The energy question will not go unanswered. A collective has been established by the Prime Minister on September 1st to find an effective solution towards excess energy unspent. The Prime Minister was given authority over the countries future energy prospects September 20, 2015 in order to plan out the integration of nuclear energy to Belarusian power grids. The final decision was unresolved and it’s conclusion has been transferred to the 1st quarter of 2016.

During a trip to the Gomel region of Belarus on September 25th President Lukashenko alongside the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in Ostrovets declared that the countries excess energy must find an outlet, “I’ve entrusted the government to find a outlet for unused electric energy.”

There seems to be a lack of options. But President Lukashenka says, “We’re going resolve this, gas stoves in the kitchen will be replaced by electric ones and we’ll put focus on EV’s (electric powered transport).” BELTA (The Belarusian Telegraph Agency) says “The possibility of enacting lower tariffs on energy consumption has also been a consideration”. Though the Belarusian people can hardly expect to pay lower tariffs on energy. The government has used it’s obligation to liquidate cross-subsidies, in 2016 it’s going to receive 100 percent of it’s tariffs on electricity energy. With the help of a flexible tariff policy businesses and citizens will be encouraged to consume more of they’re daily electricity usage at night.

In order to make use of the excess electricity at existing heating plants and CHP (Combined Heat and Power Plants) the country plans to focus more on electric boilers as well as building new electric boilers for heating industrial and residential buildings. Changes are expected to be put in place by 2020.

Experts plan to make use of nuclear energy to fuel the future needs of the country.

Nuclear energy is likely to cause Belarusian authorities to reflect and create new approaches in housing construction. Particularly in new districts for heating water and using electricity.

Specialists are setting their sights on theincreased use of economic electric powered transport. “We are going to ensure that electricity will increasingly be used both in the economy and social sector. “This is a modern focus worldwide”, says the Minister of Energy Vladimir Patupchyk during the Belarusian Energy and Ecology Forum in early October, “we are not going to fall behind.”

 

Priority is export

A predominantly electrically powered country is certainly an exciting prospect. However, it is doubtful that the aforementioned projects aimed at solving this problem will be able to switch over the entire volume of excess electricity without prejudice to the national economy. Expert’s state that a good solution would be to link the extra energy created with preexisting outlets and unify the countries energy exports.

Online magazine BelRynok  inquired about the prospects of Belarusian exports of electricity. The General Director of “Belenergo” Evgeny Voronov has previously noted that in the future, Belarus will focus on the supply of electricity to the European market – in Poland and Lithuania. He pointed out that while the implementation of these plans are problematic primarily for political reasons, “economically and technically we can export, and these are issues we are now working on.” According to Voronov, Belarus has enough power lines to amply supply electricity to Lithuania and in regards to Poland; it would be necessary to construct a line. “I think that Poland would benefit, – said E. Voronov.

It should be noted that today in parallel with the construction of a nuclear power plant in Belarus with Chinese loans that it will create a system of power distribution grids with the Belarusian NPP in the country. By 2018 the completion of complexly constructed and tuned high-voltage transmission lines running (PTL) 330 kV, as well as the construction and of substations running 330 kV power plants is expected. The contract between “Grodnoenergo” and the Chinese company NCPE is worth more than 340 million Dollars was signed in August of 2012. This project is 95% funded by a loan from the Export-Import Bank of China, and another 5% – “Grodnoenergo.”

One of the branches of the transmission system is in the direction of Lithuania and will be connected to the line leading to the Ignalina nuclear power plant. The transmission of electricity to Lithuania is brought on by the construction of 330 kV lines to Ignalina – Smorgon. The project includes the dismantling of existing transmission lines and the construction of a new line of 90 km.

 

Legalizing the Belarusian NPP

It’s clear that so long as there are problems with the coordination of the EIA (environmental impact assessment – a document which must be agreed with the neighboring countries in accordance with the Espoo Convention), Belarus can not make considerations about exporting electricity from the Belarusian NPP. The EU, as noted by the European experts, was not allowed to market their electricity from lasing sources that did not meet international standards.

Therefore, it is important for Belarus to “legalize” its nuclear power plants as soon as possible, which in turn could open the door for the export of the Belarusian energy in Europe. Lithuania takes a particular stance on this issue. In drawing attention to the fact that Belarus does not comply with the Espoo Convention (Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context), and did not provide answers to questions regarding the safety of Belarusian NPP’s. In addition, Minsk has yet to give reason as to why, they’re constructing a nuclear power plant in Ostrovets 50 km from Vilnius.

In mid-November questions concerning the Belarusian nuclear power plant came up at a meeting with The Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation of Lithuania and Belarus in Minsk. The Minister of Environmental Relations of Lithuania Kestutis Tryachekas stated the need to invite the IAEA mission to evaluate the NPP site, as required by the Espoo Convention, and the Foreign Minister of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius invited Belarusian experts to discuss the claims of international organizations related to the construction of the Ostrovets NPP.

“We don’t totally agree on everything. We must work to guarantee the quality of the Belarusian nuclear power plant in Ostrowiec is up to standard, so that no one has any questions or doubts. We agreed that our experts in the near future, in the next month, will meet on the implementation of the requirements of the Espoo Convention, “- said the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius November 12 in Minsk. He added that it would be “a joint step forward.”

However, it is not clear that they’re “joint step” will be keep them working together. The meeting referred to by L. Linkevičius must pass these days in Vilnius. But, as the director of the Department for the Ministry of Environment of Lithuania Vitalijus Auglis, the meeting is not planned to discuss concrete projects of the Belarusian nuclear power plant, as Belarus has not presented evidence of the impact of the facility on the environment and other relevant information.

In this regard, the Baltic countries discussed mechanisms, how to prevent the import of electricity from the Belarusian NPP. First of all, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia need to meet in consensus on the tariff system, the tax system. If this electricity is sufficiently taxed, there would be an incentive it to Lithuania. Since this is a sensitive issue in a legal sense, it affects a lot of international conventions. “I don’t want to say that there’s an exact direction to go now, but with where we’re headed now, I think it’s right “– says The Minister of Energy of Lithuania Rokas Masiulis in an interview with BNS on December 11.

 

The risk involved in Lithuanian option

Belarus currently exports electricity to Lithuania on exchange rules. Electricity is supplied through the Lithuanian power exchange zone Nordpoolspot. According to the exchange agreements, electricity supplied to Lithuania from third party countries (including Belarus) can be carried out in a days notice in advance and does not rely long-term contracts.

For instance in 2015, Belarus exported 113 million. KWh of electricity via the power exchange through Nordpoolspot for eight months. According BELRYNKA, in 2016 Belarusian electricity in Lithuania will follow the same trend and will be available in Latvia, Estonia and Russia in case there’s a need of emergency mutual aid.

Note that now electrical networks Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (BRELL) operate in a single electric ring. They share an agreement on the parallel operation of power systems which was enacted February 7th, 2001. This document sets out the general principles of shared electric rings which form networks.

At the end of 2015. Lithuania plans to build new connections between Lithuania and Poland (500 MW), as well as Lithuania and Sweden (700 MW), which will connect the energy system of the Baltic States and North-Western Europe. At this pace Lithuania has declared it will abandon parallel operations between the power ring that is Belarus and Russia by 2025.

If that happens the current energy infrastructure on which the electric current flows from Belarus to Lithuania, as well as the transmission line under construction, will be unnecessary.

If Minsk and Vilnius are be able to see past the problems associated with the construction of a Belarusian NPP, the Belarusian export of electricity to Lithuania is theoretically possible. For this to be a possibility Belarus will need to build a DC link in order to neutralize the effect of varying frequency of electrical current.

 

Tatyana Manenok
Translated by Vadim Dozmorov

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