The plant is not yet operating at full capacity, but it's already yielding only losses.
The authorities say that it is impossible to use the energy from BelNPP for household needs. It is necessary to reconstruct the network, which costs 1.5 billion rubles. Given that electricity exports from Astravets NPP are almost shut down, how are the authorities going to use the plant?
Charter97.org talked to Tatsiana Manionak, an expert in energy issues.
- At the initial stage, when the project was conceived, it was assumed that BelPP would export energy in large quantities. Now it is not possible because Lithuania has blocked the possibility of supplying Belarusian electricity. Ukraine has also stopped imports of electricity from Belarus. Today, the BelNPP has already produced about 3 billion kilowatt-hours. Naturally, the question arises, what to do with the so-called surplus electricity.
The Belarusian power system was self-sufficient, i.e. it was able to cover the needs of the domestic market. Moreover, in the best years, our country also exported quite a lot of electric power relative to our capabilities. Those were supplies to Europe via Lithuania and, after market liberalization, to Ukraine as well.
Due to the whole situation, several programs were developed for using that electric power, which will appear after the nuclear power plant is put into industrial operation. There are incentive rates for the population, construction of electrified homes, conversion of automobiles to electric cars and so on. This is a whole set of programs, not to mention that there are projects developed to increase electricity consumption by industrial enterprises.
The authorities also hoped that consumption would increase to three billion kilowatt-hours. Whether it will be so - we will see. This winter was quite cold, so at the beginning of the year, the domestic consumption increased solidly, but in recent years they say that the demand for electricity practically does not grow in the domestic market. Therefore, what to do with the energy, which is called surplus?
Naturally, we have to take some efforts and measures to increase demand noticeably. In principle, as noted by Belenerha officials, individual home owners do have demand for heating, but the problem is that we need to build additional distribution networks. This will require some resources.
Today's networks are not enough to meet the demand for electricity from individual builders, especially in rural areas, so the draft decree has been submitted for public discussion. It is assumed that the residents of these individual houses themselves are supposed to finance, in part, these distribution grids. Making arithmetic estimates, we must understand that this will hardly increase the volume of electricity in the domestic market. It is very doubtful, because one nuclear power plant unit will produce an additional 78 billion kilowatt-hours per year, and these incentives so far show a certain upward trend in energy consumption, but not to such an extent and to such amounts. The problem of electricity exports remains very important for the Belarusian side.
I take it that the energy industry rejects these plans, believing that if Belarusian electricity is competitive, it will also be in demand in some other markets, for instance, in Ukraine. At the beginning of the year, more than half a billion kilowatt-hours were supplied there in three months. That allowed Ukraine to balance prices in the domestic market; it was profitable to import. Now, in general, the country is able to meet the needs of the domestic market on its own, there is no need in imports, that is why they have been frozen.
It will be difficult to solve the problem without exports. Of course, it is possible by balancing the work of existing power plants which produce electricity, by replacing some obsolete units and so on, but still, you have to calculate how economically advantageous this is.
The problem for the population is that so far there are not enough distribution networks for heating.
- It turns out, the Belarusians will not have cheap energy any time soon?
- No one is hiding the fact that it is not cheap. On what grounds can it be cheap? Belarus is building the plant on credit from the Russian Federation. Yes, it is postponed for two years in terms of payments, yes, a credit line worth $10 billion has been opened, but far less will be used, $6, maybe $7 billion. Nevertheless, the loan will have to be paid back; it is not that cheap.
We have to keep in mind that it is not only the nuclear power plant that is in the energy balance. It is assumed that the nuclear plant will replace about 4.5-5 billion cubic meters of gas. Today 90% of electricity in Belarus is produced from gas, and about 19-20 billion cubic meters of natural gas is imported. We have not yet seen any substitution for this gas, i.e. reduction of imports of Russian gas. This can be explained by the cold winter and revival of the economy after COVID-19, but nevertheless, this is the situation so far.
- How would you assess the prospects of the BelNPP project in the context of the Baltic States' refusal from electricity from Belarus. The Ukraine has also decided to refuse Belarusian and Russian energy.
- The fact is that a warehouse will not hold electricity. What options are there? We will have to decommission the operating units which generate electricity at the largest plants - Lukoml, Biarozauskaya, and others. It's worth noting that the Belarusian power system has been well upgraded at the expense of credit resources, but these loans must be repaid. Today Belarus is the leader in the former Soviet Union in terms of efficiency of electricity generation, so it is necessary to balance the work of the energy system.
We have seen that a few years ago green energy was developing very rapidly in Belarus, as stimulating conditions were created for wind and solar energy to go up. Given the fact that the priority will be given to the production of energy from the nuclear power plant, both quotas and conditions for the importation of installations for green energy have been tightened, that is, this process has slowed down very seriously.
Obviously, they will look for ways to use electricity from the nuclear power plant in the first place and decommission the units which are less efficient. However, there are also collectives behind these plants, so this is fraught with certain costs.