Greece’s electric power grid seemed to be flirting with a general blackout last week, as over a third of productive capacity went out of action as a result of the strike at the Public Power Corporation (PPC). The blackout was averted by controlled power cuts throughout the country, largely through imports and increased production from hydroelectric stations. But officials say the use of limited and valuable water resources reduces the capacity of the system to meet peak demand during the hot summer months. The stability of the grid has been a more or less permanent threat in recent years. PPC’s 3,500-megawatt capacity is the system’s «golden reserve» during the summer period, but the reserves are also needed to water about half a million hectares of agricultural land and supply water to about 2.5 million people in western Greece. The outlook is not good due to inadequate rainfall again this winter. Imports can offer no more than 1,000-1,200 MW in the best of cases, officials of DESMHE, the grid operator, say, due to insufficient connections. «Electricity tonight or water in the summer,» said PPC’s manager of hydroelectric works Giorgos Leris, summing up the dilemma, and echoing farmers’ protests against the use of water resources for power production. Officials estimate a power deficit of about 800 MW during the critical summer months and they fear the consequences of a heat wave. Given the reduction in the water reserves, they consider that controlled power cuts, as last week, are likely this summer in order to avoid a blackout. Maintenance The deficit is largely due to the fact that PPC’s old power stations have to be frequently shut down for maintenance and repairs. The utility has already launched an ambitious program to replace the old stations with new ones fired with natural gas or coal, as in Aliveri and Megalopolis. But beyond the modernization requirements, there is urgent need for increasing the total installed capacity, as consumption has risen steadily between 3-3.5 percent annually over the last five years and the trend is seen as continuing. PPC’s existing capacity is now about 12,000 MW. Independent producers account for a further 870 MW, and there is a projection for a total of 4,500 MW by 2012. If PPC and the independent producers carry out their planned investments, energy experts say the resulting capacity should be sufficient to meet peak demand without the risk of a blackout, although imports will continue because they are often cheaper.