My first story for KosovaLive!

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.)

 

 

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Halfway point

So I know I have been neglecting my blog….but its for good reasons, because I have been so busy having fun and working hard in the newsroom!

But here are some of the things I have been doing:

Last weekend we went to the city of Prizren, to the south, which I will talk about in another post because its a long story.  Then Eileen and I went to a nearby lake on Saturday, called Lake Batlava, with one of our American friends we have met at a local Irish pub.  The lake is man-made and has a wonderful view of the mountains.  There are waiters that bring you food and drinks, a dock to jump off of!  It was nice to have a relaxing day by the water and to do some reading for class.

 

Then on Monday, it was Eileen’s 22nd birthday (at midnight), who has become my new best friend on this trip because we just have so much in common.  We went bar hopping, (yes on a Monday) and then drug ourselves to class at 8 the next morning.  Here is a picture of the ladies, minus Kaitlin, out for the birthday!

 

Some other random things that we have done:

Also last weekend we found out that you can have food delivered to your house, this was previously thought impossible and we had truly given up, until we read it in a guidebook.  So after 30 minutes of calling wrong numbers and trying to explain what we wanted to people who didn’t speak English, we were pretty confident that we had ordered a pizza.  Eileen was especially hungry so she ordered one for ‘4 people’, and when it arrived….

We were a little surprised haha

Here is Eileen trying to eat the largest slice of pizza I have ever seen in my life

 

Here is a photo I just wanted to include to give you a good view of Pristina.  There is a small tower on the edge of town that has a spinning restaurant at the top, much like the Space Needle and here is the view

 

Finally, yesterday we took a little field trip to a new cathedral they are building in the center of town, called the Mother Teresa Cathedral.  Mother Teresa is a big deal here (the main street is named after her) because not only is she Albanian, but she represents a lot to people who have been torn by war.  The other interesting fact about this cathedral is that only 3% of Kosovo’s population is Catholic.  The cathedral will hopefully be finished by next year, but work moves slowly because they can only continue construction when they get donations.

 

And as a last note, something a bit lighter.  I mentioned earlier that we have come to love an Irish pub in town, which I have come to realize can show me more about culture, Kosovo and people in general than any classroom or newsroom ever could.  Eileen, Brad (our grad student/Geography professor), and I spend the most time in the pub and we have met some truly incredible people.  People come here from all over the world and have so many great stories to share.  Here is us at the pub, having a blast, and hopefully I won’t have to blackmail Brad with a picture of him drinking with his students 🙂

First weekend part II

After leaving the ethnographic museum on Friday, 6 of us went to our favorite cafe, Hook, and wound down with some wine

which is very good here..

After leaving our favorite waiter a nice tip, which is very unheard of here, but extremely appreciated, we met up with our new American friend Chris and decided to check out the nightlife.  We visited two clubs and found out that we are, indeed, in a very different culture.  Our first observation was that they had a mix of live music, Albanian pop music and American pop music from the late 90s to 2000s, which naturally we went crazy for.  We also noticed that we were the only people dancing.  Upon further inquiry we found out that people here go out to be “seen” with certain people and in certain clothing, making it very much a status thing.  That wasn’t exactly our aim, so we proceeded to dance and have a good time, while making some new Kosovar friends.

On Saturday, we slept in and took an adventure further down our road to what is called Germia.  This area is known for its hiking trails and community pool.  We hiked for about an hour and then spent a little while at the pool.  This was an interesting experience because we had our first encounter with Turkish bathrooms, which lack toilet paper, sanitation, or even a toilet for that matter (they are basically a stall with a hole in the ground).  After changing carefully, a few of us went swimming.  The pool itself is actually the size of a small lake and is fed by spring water from the mountain.  There is a diving board and a large water slide, and seems to be the place where most of Pristina goes on hot weekends.

The rest of Saturday was fairly quiet because we had planned to get up early on Sunday and visit our individual historical sites in the city for a class assignment.

Our first site on Sunday was mine, because it was the closest to our house.  I have the Old Jewish Cemetery, which we quickly found out is at the top of one of the largest hills in the city.  The view is extremely beautiful, making the cemetery seem like a sanctuary.  It is a little separated from a nearby neighborhood and is fenced off for protection.  The cemetery was desecrated last November when someone spray painted swastikas and a hateful message on the gravestones.  The cemetery has since been cleaned up, but I recently found out that its caretaker has passed away and thus the cemetery is starting to fall under disrepair again.  I am doing more research on the subject, but sacred sites and cemeteries in this country are not necessarily government owned like in the U.S.

Front gate to the cemetery

Grave stones

View of the city from the top of the hill

We visited several other sites throughout the day, but unfortunately my camera died (died as in a strongly worded letter to Canon might be necessary and no amount of battery charging would help) and so I only have photos from two more sites (one from earlier in the week)

The first is the grave site of Rugova, the first president of Kosovo (1992 to 2000).  He is somewhat of a national hero here and was kind of a hipster, he loved wearing scarves around his neck all the time.

Park benches and flowers lined the walkway up to the grave site

Back of Rugova’s grave–Kosovo flag, Flag of Dardania (which Rugova proposed as the national flag) , Albanian flag

They take their gardening seriously here…

 

While walking around this site, which we later learned was owned by the government, we noticed another monument to the side.

After noticing the monument was made out of concrete and metal, and had a lot of graffiti, we guessed that it was from the Yugoslav era, and we were right.  It is called the Martyrs Hill monument, and has a small cemetery behind it, and then a large view of the city.  There are still a lot of remnants of past governments of Kosovo that have not been torn down, especially examples of communist Yugoslav architecture like this one.

 

 

 

Yugoslavia sure knew how to decorate, as we learned at one of the other monuments.

This is the monument of Brotherhood and Unity located in downtown Pristina.  There are several rumors as to what the three pillars stand for, but people don’t seem to care anymore and our professor calls it the giant dart sticking out of the ground (I’m sure that’s not what the communists had in mind)

Like other remnants of a very painful past for most Kosovars, this monument has been graffitied and is ignored by most walking by it.  There is talk of tearing it down and building a parking lot or road or something more useful.

First weekend!

Hey sorry everyone, I kinda fell off the face of the earth there for a bit.  We were exhausted after flying here and then spending our first 4 days in class and running around town trying to get situated.  On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning, we had full schedules with class in the mornings, an hour and a half to take the bus downtown and grab lunch and then afternoons in the newsroom at KosovaLive.

On Friday afternoon we met in the old town district (on the Eastern side) and went to Pristina’s ethnographic museum.  There we learned first hand how Kosovars and Albanians used to build their houses and how they lived.  They have two full scale houses, that were moved from another location, that people tour through.  They have authentic woodwork, seating, rugs, bathrooms, fireplaces and several other artifacts to show.

The ethnographic museum

Fountain in the courtyard

An example of a traditional kitchen inside the house

Fireplace in the kitchen

The bathroom

Carved wooden cabinets

A typical seating area, usually reserved for men or guests

Example of a hope chest for marriage

A walker where a mother could put her baby so she could get something done

Hand-carved wooden ceiling decoration

Another seating area; typically the elders or guests would sit at the head of the room and tell stories, while everyone else listened patiently

Butter churn

Traditional wedding dress

Wedding costume for a man

Another large seating area (this would’ve been in a wealthier family’s home)

After we toured the museum, the workers at the museum served us a traditional Kosovar food called flija (pronounced flee-ah).  Flija is a pastry that tastes like pancakes, except it is cooked over a fire in a traditional pan and it consists of almost 100 layers of dough.  The older woman who made it for us had been working on it all day.  It is usually eaten with honey, cheese or meat.

Flija!

The Real World

After landing in Pristina, and navigating our way through the one-room airport, we took 3 taxis to our new home.  We were lucky enough to acquire houses to stay in this year, instead of the usual dorms.  This made us all feel like we were on The Real World Pristina.  There are 4 of us in the house that I am staying in, and 3 in the other.  Brad, the grad student is in a basement apartment below us, and the professors and family are staying downtown in an apartment.

Here are our two houses with the courtyard; mine is the one further back.

This is the courtyard from our front door balcony.

Here is the view from the road where our houses are located.  If you walk about 5 min down towards town, there is a little convenience store where we buy water; you cannot drink the tap water in our houses.

This is the gorgeous view from our balcony.

Our living room!

Our kitchen!

We are very lucky to have wifi, air conditioning (although it still feels pretty warm in the house), a washer (you dry your clothes on a line) and our water stays on all the time.  In the city most water turns off between 10 PM and 6 AM.  We are all settled and looking forward to a group dinner tonight at 7, at a local restaurant that we will be frequenting.

 

 

 

Never eating Bob Evans again

Hello friends and family!  As this is my first post, just a heads up, I have decided not to give an introduction on Pristina, but rather I put it in a separate page in the menu so you can read it as you please.  This also goes for information on what I am doing here.

We left the farm yesterday (Monday morning) at around 5 AM and drove to Pittsburgh.  From there I flew to Newark, and met up with the 6 other girls, 1 grad student, 2 professors and 2 step sons of one of the professors.  From there we all flew 8 hours to Frankfurt, and then another 2 to Pristina.  We arrived around noon today (Tuesday), Pristina time, which is 6 hours ahead of the East coast.

The trip was off to a rough start from the beginning because I somehow contracted food poisoning on Sunday night, before leaving for the airport.  And while packing, my room became infested with evil tiny green bugs that can fit through window screens and like to fly into ears and bite.  But I conquered their little party by attracting them to a hot light, and managed to get most of them out of my suitcase before sealing it up.

After a rough 5 AM drive, I managed to down a sprite and some crackers at the Pittsburgh airport and then slept away my sickness on the plane.  Then in Newark I had to go through security again to change gates, and miraculously they lost one of my shoes.  Both shoes went in the conveyor belt, but only one came out.  The security men seemed very confused and it took them around 5 min to find it (it was knocked into the X ray part of the machine).

After that, however, I was able to enjoy my last American meal of Auntie Ann’s pretzels and a Starbucks Frappuccino.  Naturally.

The rest of the flights were pretty smooth sailing.  I poked at my airplane food, but did not eat the chicken, which looked like cat food, and slept on and off.  But I did get to watch the new Sherlock Holmes and The Vow for free on the plane.