Energy Catastrophe: Moldova being sent to the “Stone Age”?

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Anton SVET
On Monday, the Russian Armed Forces resumed strikes on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, which, combined with Friday’s fruitless negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, threatens Moldova with a total blackout
Yesterday, Russian troops once again struck a number of critical infrastructure facilities in Ukraine. In particular, hydroelectric power plants on key rivers – the Dnieper and Dniester – were targeted. The Dnieper HPP (the largest in Ukraine), the Novodnestrovsk HPP, and the Kremenchug HPP were hit. After that, emergency power outages began all over Ukraine; experts speak of the most serious failures since the conflict began. It is difficult to regard these shellings solely as a reaction to a drone attack on the Russian Black Sea Fleet. We are talking about a systematic strategy of the Russian General Staff to reduce Ukraine’s capabilities in the war. Along with suspending Russia’s participation in the “grain deal”, which brought substantial revenues to the Ukrainian treasury, Moscow seeks to undermine the enemy’s logistics and energy. As a result of these attacks, there are direct threats to Moldova’s energy security. Despite the ban on electricity exports from Ukraine, including under the contract between Energocom and DTEK Energo, some volumes of electricity from Ukraine still come through mutual flows. For example, Ukraine’s Dnestrovskaya HPP is an extremely important energy hub for the north of the country. On Monday, its supplies to Balti decreased threefold. Despite the fact that today they have been restored to their previous volumes, we cannot rule out new strikes on the Ukrainian power plant and new problems. Further degradation of the Ukrainian power system will cause not only overvoltage and failures in Moldova, but it will require increased supplies of electricity from Romanian Isaccea to Ukraine in transit through the south of Moldova. This could provoke both price hikes and a concrete shortage of light to compensate Moldova for the currently reduced supplies from the Moldovan GRES in Transdniestria. Over the weekend, PJSC Gazprom confirmed filling up with natural gas in guaranteed volumes of 5.7 million cubic meters per day, i.e., at the level of October. This is at least half of the existing demand and contractual obligations. Apparently, the Moldovan government should not seriously expect to increase generation and supplies from the Moldovan GRES. Moreover, both banks of the Dniester will significantly expand consumption in November due to the start of the heating season. According to some of our politicians, the metallurgical plant in Ribnita temporarily resumed its work over the weekend, which is indirectly confirmed by the increase in power flows from Ukraine through the line from Podolsk. Tiraspol has not commented on this in any way. Last week, the authorities tried to negotiate directly with Transdniestria, but what is happening suggests that Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Serebryan failed to find an understanding at a meeting with representatives of the left bank on Friday. The task to reduce gas consumption on the left bank in order to redirect it to power generation, set by Andrei Spinu and voiced publicly, could not be solved respectively. Apparently, Tiraspol took negatively the open threats to reduce deliveries through Moldovagaz SA and made it clear that it had no intention to reduce household consumption. At the same time, the industry on the left bank of the Dniester, if local media believe, is already making maximum savings. On Friday, commenting on the results of the meeting, Transdniestrian officials explained that the reduction of gas supplies from Moldovagaz JSC to Tiraspoltransgaz would primarily lead to a decrease in electricity production and supplies to the right bank. At the end of October Transdniestria was covering about 23% of our demand for electricity; however, the Moldovan GRES did not raise prices, which confirms that mutual dependence persists – because further reduction in supplies may put the station on the verge of technological shutdown and financial unprofitability. It is indicative that the contract with Moldovan GRES for November has not been signed yet (another evidence of unsuccessful negotiations). Apparently, the issue of supplies will be solved daily in manual mode, depending on the existing demand and the volume of gas supplied by Moldovagaz JSC. Nevertheless, the Transdniestrian region's position seems to be a little more stable, as it has accumulated a stock of coal, which is sufficient for the Moldovan GRES to cover the internal demand for electricity for two months. Also, Dubasari HPP has significantly increased its generation after the water level in the Dniester has risen. Among other things, the Moldovan GRES plays the role of a key southern energy hub, providing not only electricity production, but also work on balancing the grid and transporting electricity. If the interests of the plant are violated through the fault of the right bank, Tiraspol could easily decide to stop the transit of Romanian electricity from Isaccea to Chisinau. Therefore, the regional administration is behaving rather stubbornly, and in a mentor-like manner recommends the government and Moldovagaz SA to send a delegation to Moscow to negotiate an increase in natural gas supplies. Moreover, Ukraine has repeatedly confirmed its readiness to provide transit of any required volume. However, the Government continues to ignore the opportunity to talk to Moscow. Instead, it wastes its efforts on futile attempts to find transit capacity in Bulgaria (as it turned out, not secured with raw materials). As many political commentators have recognized, without negotiations with Gazprom and the Kremlin this winter, it is simply impossible to resolve energy issues. But deals with Russia fundamentally do not fit into the outlook of our government, because, according to Igor Grosu, the speaker, Moldova is about to get rid of gas dependence. The presidency, preferring to look only at Bucharest and the West, is generally ready to put up with any sacrifices – the budget deficit, the impoverishment of the population and the prospect of an extremely cold winter. But time is working against her. If the current course continues, the crisis will grow in inverse proportion to the air temperature. That is why over the weekend the authorities instructed the police to disperse the protests in the capital as violently as possible. Discontent will gain momentum, given the inevitability of the energy crisis and the likely increase in protest activity by co-opting a more serious political core, including figures who have worked in close ties with Vlad Plahotniuc, who is returning to the political scene.