9 February 2017
- Power hoarding in southeast belies integration ambition
- Bulgaria faces EU review of month-long power export halt
As freezing weather triggered energy shortages across southeast Europe at the start of the year, Bulgaria’s refusal to export power was typical in a region where everyone had to fend for themselves.
Nations from Greece to Hungary hoarded power last month in response to the coldest winter in a decade, exposing the weakness of the region’s power markets, which should enjoy unrestricted flows. Temperatures in the Balkans and surrounding countries are expected to drop below freezing again next week.
The reaction highlights the European Union’s struggle to break down national barriers for power and gas, integrate markets and bolster energy security as it tries to ease dependence on Russian fuel. While many southeast European countries are in the EU, they have been slow to modernize plants and cables in a region where assets per person for production and infrastructure are about a third of that in advanced Europe, according to the International Monetary Fund.
“What I see in the Balkans is clear evidence that everybody first secures its own consumption and only then, if they’re in a position to do so, they’ll help the others,’’ said Andras Totth, the deputy chief executive officer of strategy at Hungarian state-controlled utility MVM.
January’s cold snap crippled supplies in a region dominated by coal-fired generation and hydropower, cutting electricity to tens of thousands of homes and sending energy prices to record levels. Greece cut power exports for two days, while Romania restricted flows as rivers froze and one of its nuclear reactors was forced to halt after a blizzard damaged the high-voltage line connecting it to the grid.