Moldova’s Energy Strategy until 2050: a Course on Dependence?

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Christian RUSSU
Judging by the presented concept of the energy strategy of Moldova until 2050, the authorities are determined to continue the policy of “diversifying” and severing ties with Russia, which this year led to the largest crisis in the energy sector in 30 years
Being on a tour of foreign countries and as if unaware of the situation in the country, Maia Sandu, after learning about the energy contract with the Moldavskaya GRES (MGRES), reproached the government for “insufficient transparency” in decision-making related to energy security. She then instructed the Cabinet of Ministers to submit options for reorganizing the sector as soon as possible. It is not the first time that the country suddenly has no top officials, primarily the president, at a time of important events. From the point of view of political image-makers, any involvement of their wards in this or that event should bring obvious pluses for the latter. If it promises only problems, then the public figure must be distanced as much as possible. Given the endless problems and scandals, it is not surprising that the entourage is protecting Maia Sandu from a toxic domestic agenda and is fully exploiting the foreign policy context. But this tactic also has its limitations. Political leaders cannot constantly bury their heads in the sand. The latest sociological surveys show that citizens hold the President responsible for what is happening in the country, and her credibility rating is sinking. Maybe this is why there was this outburst of discontent against Andrei Spinu, who regularly causes so much discomfort to Maia Sandu personally. Of course, we find it hard to believe that the Deputy Prime Minister kept the President in the dark about the negotiations with Tiraspol and the MGRES for a month, and that she went on a business trip abroad in complete ignorance. Nevertheless, Spinu, as a man should, publicly took all the responsibility for the decision taken and the image damage caused to the ruling party, although later he was able to secure the support of his party colleagues, the Secretariat of the EU Energy Community and even the US Ambassador to Moldova personally. Nevertheless, our partners definitely have questions about how the authorities explain the return to supplies from the MGRES controlled by Inter RAO UES, with which EU countries broke contracts after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In these conditions, Chisinau’s concession to Moscow and Tiraspol is obviously regarded by many as a local defeat of the EU sanctions policy. Things are not easy with the domestic perception of the government’s actions, either. The public had been stubbornly prepared for an energy rupture with Moscow for a year, convinced that all the financial costs would be covered by European partners and that citizens should only save energy. And then the myth about energy independence that had been built overnight fell apart, and the resulting blackout came as a shock to citizens and businesses. There were reasonable questions about who and how would pay for alternative gas supplies, which are now twice as expensive on the EU exchange than those going to the left bank from Gazprom, and why so much effort and resources had been spent without any results at all. All this required some kind of reaction, especially on the part of the President. However, there was no room for maneuvering in the conditions of the energy rupture with Moscow. That is why Maia Sandu, at a meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State for Energy Jennifer Granholm, pompously repeated that for Moldova “energy independence means maintaining democracy and the country’s membership in a free world, especially in the current context, marked by the war.” Thus, all the President’s claims to the Government can be reduced to the fact that Andrei Spinu did not find enough cheap gas and electricity to free himself from Chisinau’s dependence on Moscow and Tiraspol, and that he did not communicate about all this to the population well. In our opinion, the Deputy Prime Minister even overdid it in his publicity and became the hero of numerous memes, but he could not outdo himself even if he wanted to. As for the content of Maia Sandu’s accusations, the Deputy Prime Minister took care of it in advance. On November 24, the leadership of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Regional Development presented the concept of the Energy Strategy of the Republic of Moldova until 2050, a political document that sets priorities in the energy sector, taking into account global and regional challenges. The latter, of course, include Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the use of energy resources by Moscow for political purposes, as well as the lack of control over the energy infrastructure of the left bank. Already based on these basic provisions, it is easy to conclude that the concept is another tool for geopolitical disengagement from Russia, and the country’s economy will have to ensure this process. "To earn our energy independence is our moral duty to our children and grandchildren," Andrei Spinu stressed at the presentation of the document. Among the main goals of the strategy are increasing energy security, developing competitive energy markets and regional integration, promoting energy efficiency, developing sustainable renewable energy sources, and protecting consumers. What it turns out in practice. Two new power plants are to be built by 2050. The first one is with flexible technology based on internal combustion engines of 80 to 100 MW. to increase the balancing capacity of the power system and integrate the capacity of renewable energy sources. The second is a cogeneration plant with flexible technology based on the combined-cycle with an efficiency of more than 55% and a capacity of at least 250 MW.  Moreover, the document stipulates that they must be located in areas under the full control of constitutional authorities in order to reduce the dominant position of the MGRES. The question immediately arises how the authorities plan to build relations with the left bank. If among the objectives of the strategy there is no achievement of effective control over the energy infrastructure in Transdniestria, then, taking into account the desire for energy independence, it turns out that for the next quarter century we intend to destroy the energy interconnection of the two banks of the Nistru. This will hardly have a favorable effect on the process of reintegration of the country. Of course, if more electricity were produced on the right bank, it would be easier for our authorities to negotiate with Tiraspol. But in the long term, it is hardly reasonable to set up a policy of confrontation within the country. However, the authorities in the strategy explicitly acknowledge that Moldova has no possible long-term solutions for the integration of market participants operating in the Transdniestrian region. The document mentions that the implementation of the EU Codes and Guidelines for the Electricity and Natural Gas Sectors by 2030 aims to achieve operational control of the Transdniestrian networks through transport agreements. However, the decision on the adoption of market management network codes rests with the EU Energy Community. It would be worth reminding that the dispatching of the energy system of the two banks is already effectively performed by Moldelectrica, and the same MGRES, in case of fuel availability, promptly responds to instructions of dispatchers from Chisinau, carrying out balancing functions also outside Moldova in the Odessa region. However, apparently, reaching any agreements with the administration of the left bank on mutually beneficial cooperation in the energy sector is not in the long-term plans of our leadership. But in the strategy, as expected, there are tasks on further integration with Romania through the completion of the overhead 400 kV Vulcanesti-Chisinau power line, as well as the new 400 kV Balti-Suchava power line. By the way, the latter should become for Romania only one part of the construction project of the power transmission line Suceava-Gadălin-Tîrnica-Mântia. The feasibility of interconnection projects between Moldova and Romania Vulcanesti-Smirdan and between Moldova and Ukraine Balti-Novo-Dnistrovsk are also planned to be analyzed. Taking into account the plans to build new generating capacities and stage-by-stage decommissioning or complete reconstruction of the existing thermal power plants in Chisinau and Balti, as well as the intention to build high-voltage interstate power lines in the north of the country, it becomes obvious that Moldova still sees itself as an electricity importer by the middle of the next century. The focus is on Romanian and Ukrainian supplies. The authorities have no plans to return to the former status of an exporter of electric energy and use the potential of the left bank for this purpose. Such position is understandable given that another objective of the strategy is to complete the unbundling of Moldovatransgas to ensure full access of third parties to its natural gas transmission and distribution network, which will enable other traders and shippers to sign contracts with Moldovatransgas, within implementation of the so-called Third Energy Package.  This year, the authorities have repeatedly pointed out that due to the monopoly of Moldovagaz in the distribution network, the Russian-Moldovan company has to be included even in gas supply schemes through alternative routes. We do not intend to accept this level of dependence on Moscow and will systematically reduce it in favor of our Western partners.  Taking into account the planned rupture in the gas sphere, of course, we can not hope for blue fuel supplies for the MGRES, and therefore count on cheap electricity from Transdniestria.  Here one can recall the prices (per MWh) for the electric power produced locally and imported from Romania, quoted by Andrei Spinu himself: Chisinau and Balti thermal power plants – €228, Cuciurgan thermal power plant – $73, Romanian import – from €90 to €415. Analyzing the prepared concept of Moldova’s energy strategy until 2050 one cannot help realizing that the government’s slogans about intention "to provide citizens with accessible energy in the future – both by source and by price" or "to make it a source of economic development and not a burden for pockets of citizens and business environment" are hardly destined to come true. As for personal claims of the President to the Deputy Prime Minister supervising the energy sector Andrei Spinu decided to use them as an occasion to strengthen his own weight by offering to substantially increase the staff of the ministry he heads by creating three new departments: on oil and gas, electric and thermal energy, and renewable energy. It goes without saying that taxpayers will have to support the bloated bureaucracy.