Serbia exclusive report: Electricity production crisis in Serbia, lack of lignite will endanger TPPs power gen capacity and electricity supply in Serbia in 2014/2015; implications and scenarios

26. May 2014. / News Serbia Energy

Power plants have been saved. But what about the lignite? And how will the devastating consequences of floods for the Electric Power Industry be compensated? Serbia is vulnerable. Its Achilles’ heel is currently surrounded with water from the river Sava, while high-power pumps, having arrived mostly as the first aid from Slovenia and other European countries, are pumping the water from the surrounding canals back into the river Sava. At this very spot, it seems to be very easy to inflict an almost lethal blow to Serbia, just by putting out of operation this single crucial electric power facility – the Thermal Power Plant „Nikola Tesla“ A, known as TENT.

In the most severely affected town of Obrenovac, the never recorded flood which struck the entire Serbia directly jeopardized TENT, the state’s energy bloodstream, which was not the first such case in the history, although the causes had been different before. It turned out that, in the series of accidents, the very awareness of the importance of TENT mobilized primarily the Electric Power Industry, the volunteers, the army and the special services, as well as all others who could possibly do anything for Obrenovac, in order to save this vital plant.

TENT – both the jeopardized facility A located very next to the river Sava and the currently operating B at the other end of Obrenovac – as well as the mines feeding them, located in the basin “Kolubara“, played a major support role, if not the key role, in almost all decisive historic moments in Serbia. As they were put out of operation by the NATO bombing, Serbia was crushed by power cuts which probably also accelerated the conclusion of the Kumanovo Agreement; after the strike of the Kolubara miners, they had the decisive role in the 5th October overthrow of Milosevic’s government.

Even today, the companies TENT and Kolubara have an important political influence in Serbia, which can hardly be compared to the influence which, for instance, a simple thermal power plant has over German or Belgian politics. When TENT is shackled by just one big snow, as it happened last winter, Serbia starts to shiver. And now, during the biggest natural disaster which had not happened in Serbia for decades, TENT and Kolubara were again defended decisively as the state’s most precious property.

POWER PLANTS DIETING

The hydrometeorological prediction did alarm both the state authorities and the Electric Power Industry (EPS) somewhat beforehand, primarily because of the operation started in the hydro power plant “Đerdap. However, when Kolubara overflew and started flooding, not only Obrenovac, but also the “Kolubara“ mines, a true electricity drama commenced. The first act began on Friday 16th May, when a fire broke out in Veliki Crljeni past 1:00 p.m. at the plants of TENT’s elder sister, the power plant „Kolubara“. It turned out that the transformers of 110/35kV and 110/6 kV were on fire, which EPS fire teams managed to extinguish.

The second act lasted much longer. The mine in Kolubara had been flooded the same morning, and coal could no longer be transported either to TENT A or to TENT B. In the following days, the latter plant maintained production, but using only the coal from the stock. TENT A soon became the central stage, as it was jeopardized, the same as the town of Obrenovac, by the surrounding flood, and, as of Sunday, also by the flood wave coming along the river Sava.

In the meantime, levees were raised around the power plant. The embankment was built around the power plant in the length of around two kilometres, and at the time when this text was written, it was further reinforced, so as to “prepare for the scenario which [was] worse than the one predicted by the experts who [had suggested] measures to make TENT safe“, as the Ministry of Energy announced. The set of circumstances, since this was a flood, had already ruled out from energy combination the most powerful Serbian hydro power plant “Đerdap“, which had already been intensively reducing the accumulations since 15th May, in turns releasing 13.500 cubic meters of water from the river Danube with a quite obvious goal – to lower the level of rivers in the country at least to a certain extent. This had caused Đerdap to barely even produce electricity, i.e. to reduce the production to one quarter of its capacity.

As TENT A was out of operation, shackled by water, TENT B operating on supplies, almost dieting, and Đerdap producing too little, the news that the river Mlava, in the east of the country, had broken through the embankment and the power plant in Kostolac was jeopardized, as well as the nearby mine Drmno, came as God’s punishment. It was only a miracle and the incredible effort of volunteers that saved this power plant and the open pit mine from flooding on the Sunday night 18th May, thereby preserving the precious 20 percent of capacities.

Meanwhile, the Electric Power Industry started importing electricity preventively. Although there was a dilemma later whether the price of electricity on the market had been 80 or only 34.5 euros for one megawatt-hour, in this urgent request, EPS was not completely forced to buy electricity from dealers, as a significant amount of electricity come from Montenegro at a low price. During this trade, the southern neighbour truly helped Serbia and saved millions for the already shaken state budget. The daily consumption in Serbia amounts to around 90 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, and, as days went by, several million kilowatt-hours were necessary, and they came from other electric power systems through the emergency, urgent procurement.

„The situation is complicated and the danger is not over; therefore the employees from the head offices of the PE EPS came to help the defence“, said the acting general manager of EPS, Aleksandar Obradović, two days later, explaining that „if TENT A [had been] lost, this [would have had] immense consequences for our system“. It turned out that the system remained in operation. Serbia is not in the dark, but the consequences of this battle will not be remediated soon. The right question that arises – how much will the flood cost the electric power system in the future?

THE ISSUE OF LIGNITE

To figure this out at all, it is primarily necessary to understand why TENT plays such an important role for Serbia. The answer is simple: because it is powerful and this not only at the national, but also at the regional level. The relief of Serbia in terms of electric power is strange otherwise. The current capacity of the Serbian electric power industry amounts to around 8400 MW of installed capacity of thermal power plants and hydro power plants. In addition to Đerdap, Serbia also has the „Drina-Lim“ hydro power plants, and the energy giant from the region of Požarevac – “Kostolac“ also represents an important resource, with two power plants A and B, supplied from the mine Drmno, nearby the Danube, and next to the famous archaeological park Viminacium. But the heart of the system is nevertheless the energy complex stretching between Obrenovac and Lazarevac – TENT and its lignite feed source – the basin “Kolubara“.

Namely, the two thermal power plants in Obrenovac, TENT A and B, are the most powerful power plants in the Southeast Europe, with the total of eight blocks and the installed capacity of more than 2500 MW. These powerful machines are the symbols of the highest reach of Serbian engineering and they are the only actual resource which could be offered to potential investors into Serbian industry, through the low price of electricity. Erected at the turn of the seventies into the eighties, these power plants, together with Kolubara thermal power plants, are parts of the company TENT, which otherwise produces every other kilowatt-hour of electricity in Serbia.

“TENT is the most important energy facility in Serbia, because 40 percent of electricity for the households in Serbia is produced here and this is why this power plant must be defended at any cost“, the Minister of Energy Aleksandar Antić said during his visit to TENT on Tuesday 20th May.

However, it is not all about the power plants, it is also about the coal. In the very heart of the system, there is the currently flooded basin “Kolubara“. The coal from “Kolubara“ is burnt in all fifteen blocks of the company „Nikola Tesla“, which also includes the power plants TENT A and TENT B, “Kolubara“ A and “Morava“. Under normal circumstances, 33 train sets, each having 27 waggons and eight tractor locomotives, constantly circulate through the villages Grabovac and Stubline near Obrenovac.

The lignite from Kolubara heats the boilers and, with the use of steam, it drives the turbines of the fifteen generators which almost constantly rotate at the speed of 3000 times per minute. In this way, around 30 million tons of lignite is burnt during one year. This lignite practically keeps the entire state economy alive and represents its greatest energy resource and, basically, the only independent economic resource. The power plants have been saved, but the central issue in the forthcoming reconstruction is how long it will take to restore this currently flooded feed source back to its previous capacity.

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