Coal power plant story
Brightly lit glass storefronts line the inside of Pristina’s Youth and Sports shopping center. Air conditioning pulls in customers from the summer heat, and overhead fluorescent lighting allows them to browse the racks of clothes.
At Sport Fashion, owner Ardian Zhuja is worried about how long he will be able to afford these necessities.
If electricity rates rise because Kosovo decides to build a more reliable and efficient energy supply, the 50-year-old said he could lose his store.
“We don’t like it, but maybe we have to close; the shop is too big,” said Zhuja, who is already struggling to pay his commercial electricity bill of about €300 a month. At home, Zhuja pays around €50 per month and as much as €100 per month in the winter. Though individual consumers pay lower rates than business users, Zhuja said he can barely keep up.
Zhuja has a law degree, but he has never practiced because he could make more money from his clothing store. His wife is a state inspector, and together their salaries support two teenage sons.
Though Zhuja said he pays attention to government decisions that could affect his family, he doesn’t know much about the plan to privatize the country’s power system or the new power plant that Kosovo is planning to build. He does know, however, that these decisions could cost him.
In September, Kosovo plans to take bids to purchase Kosovo’s existing power plant, known as Kosovo B, and the nearby lucrative lignite mines. The winning bidder would be required to update the equipment at Kosovo B and build a new plant that’s being called Kosovo C or Kosova a Re.
Privatizing Kosovo’s power system would unquestionably raise rates. If Kosovo follows through with the controversial plan, rates could go up an unfathomable 200 and 400 percent, according to studies by the World Bank and the University of California, Berkeley.
Besides building in a profit, the winning bidder must promise to meet environmental standards that will satisfy the European Union and the World Bank. EU member countries must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent, increase their renewable energy by 20 percent and cut energy usage by 20 percent through efficiency by 2020.
Kosovo is not a member of the EU, but desperately wants to join.
Today Kosovo has two power plants, one of which would be eliminated under the privatization plan. But the remaining one needs modern pollution controls, according to a 2011 World Bank study.
Kosovo’s government wants to sell Kosovo B and “get rid of it because it costs a lot, it pollutes and it’s unreliable,” said Besa Shahini, senior analyst at the European Stability Initiative.
Beyond complaints about the environmental impact of another coal-fired plant, others argue that too many Kosovars will lose their jobs under the privatization plan.
“The economic impacts of this coal plant will be devastating,” said Justin Guay, Washington, D.C. representative for the International Climate Program at the Sierra Club.
“These companies don’t have a stake in the people, in Kosovo or the pollution,” Guay said.
Meanwhile, a group of non-governmental organizations has filed a complaint with the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, arguing that too many people are likely to lose their jobs under privatization.
“We have made a lot of noise,” said Shahini.
Job losses became an issue after Kosovo announced in June that it’s selling its electricity grid system to the Turkish consortium, Limak-Calik. The official complaint to the World
Bank stated that 30 percent of employees could be out of work in the first three years, and the “move will contribute to the creation of a monopoly.”
Though the World Bank initially supported building new power plant, it’s now having second thoughts. It agreed to a hearing at the end of July to discuss job losses that will occur with privatization of the grid, as well as issues with the proposed new plant. The World Bank is set to vote on the plan to build Kosovo C in 2013.
“The more you look at the project, the worse it becomes,” said the Sierra Club’s Guay.
Kosovo’s two operating power plants do not produce enough energy for the country. The outdated Kosovo A plant operates at 60 percent capacity and is set to be shut down in 2017.
Critics argue that if the country’s electricity grid were more efficient, Kosovo A could be closed now. Estimates vary, but experts say between 20 and 40 percent of the energy produced by the two plants is lost in transmission.
Environmentalists complain that Kosovo needs to be investing in electricity sources that are not powered by coal. Energy usage, they say, fluctuates significantly between winter and summer, and that coal plants “cannot ramp up or down.”
“Kosovo has a peak power problem, not a base-load problem,” said Guay.
Kosovar consumers also worry about efficiency standards – but a different kind. They complain that their electricity bills are inaccurate, that meters are not read properly and that people are not being required to pay their bills.
“It’s common to complain about electricity bills,” said 29-year-old Valon Hoxha, whose sister spent three months filing a complaint with electricity workers because of what she said was an incorrect reading of her usage.
“The trust between people and company is not there,” said Hoxha, who added that some people simply steal their power.
If electricity rates go up, some residents worry that problem will worsen.
“People would have to steal electricity; this is bad,” said Rajmonda Musliu, a 23-year-old who lives with her parents outside of Pristina.
The concerns of critics about one company having a monopoly on Kosovo’s power, possible exorbitant rate hikes, and the environmental effects of another coal-burning plant, could cause a change of plans.
Zhuja listens for news about the plant and the cost of electricity, “but I’m not sure what will happen.”
(Ariana Williams is a reporting intern at KosovaLive in collaboration with Miami University in the United States.)