ECONOMY

Tsochadzopoulos puts power sufficiency doubts to rest

The Public Power Corporation (PPC) will invest 258 million euros in the country’s power distribution and transportation grid by next summer to ensure there is no problem of shortage during the Olympic Games, Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos told reporters yesterday. Referring to the furor that arose on Tuesday concerning the possible assignment of a planned power plant on the island of Rhodes to a private firm, Tsochadzopoulos said the relevant tender had been annulled and the project would be undertaken by PPC, as provided for by law concerning certain islands that are not connected to the mainland grid. Opposition deputies in Parliament on Tuesday charged the government with ignoring earlier warnings that the country might face a large power deficit during the Olympics and referred to «opaque procedures» being employed now that it has realized such a prospect is possible. Also, PPC’s labor union had announced a 24-hour strike for November 18, protesting that there was no evidence of any likelihood of shortage and that the government was «preparing the ground for the entry of private power producers via the back door.» Tsochadzopoulos said the central power system distribution authority (DESMHE) will issue a tender for the construction of private wind-turbine power plants in Viotia and Evia, with a total capacity of 120-160 megawatts, while PPC will be licensed to set up a similar station in Lavrion, southern Attica. The decision for these plants was made after it was established that the proposed underwater cable connection with Italy cannot guarantee the required potential for reserves, Tsochadzopoulos said. Three more tenders will be issued by year-end for three private plants, totaling a capacity of 900-1,300 MW, within the framework of the industry’s deregulation. Natural gas a key The development minister said he was optimistic that an agreement will soon be reached with the sole bidder for a 35 percent stake in the Public Gas Corporation (DEPA), Spain’s Gas Natural. «The government aims at selecting a stable partner, in pursuit of its strategy of upgrading the country into an energy crossroads,» he said. An upgrade of the country’s natural gas infrastructure is considered a prerequisite for effective deregulation of the country’s power industry, as a spate of private power plans envisage the use of natural gas. But such plans have so far stumbled over the high transportation costs of gas and the related reluctance from banks to finance the projects. Greece has agreed with Turkey on a pipeline link that will supply the country with large quantities of gas from central Asia. Recent reports cast doubt on the willingness of Gas Natural to stay as a long-haul partner, claiming that the Spaniards had asked for a clause that would allow them to sell their stake back if they did not realize the expected return on their investment over a number of years. Tsochadzopoulos also said he had asked for a probe by the Competition Commission into the fuels market in the regions of the southern Aegean islands, Crete and Epirus, as prices in these areas diverged considerably from the rest of the country and there was clear evidence of illegal harmonized price practices involving marketing companies and gasoline stations. About two months ago, the Development Ministry imposed temporary price ceilings in the above regions and earlier this month Deputy Minister Kimon Koulouris threatened their reimposition.