Another blackout in Albania

So Albania had a country-wide blackout yesterday. (N.B., I’m not going to post about Albania every day. It’s just sort of random.) They’ve had plenty of blackouts before, but this was the first one to talke the whole country down. It lasted for several hours. Fortunately, it happened on a warm day, so nobody froze and there don’t seem to have been any deaths. Still, not good.

Albania has problems with electricity, and has had since… well, pretty much always. Communist dictator Enver Hoxha tried to electrify the whole country, but he did it in a really slapdash way, with generators, equipment and networks ranging from ramshackle to crappy. The country gets all its electrity from Communist-era hydropower plants; hydropower is clean and all that, but the generators are old and in need of constant repair and a season of bad rain (common in Albania) can turn the lights off.

Meanwhile, demand for electricity has been soaring as the economy grows. Total power consumption has about doubled in the last seven years. As a result, Albania imports around half of its electricity. Power plants, transmission and distribution still haven’t been privatized, so everything is run by KESh, a not-very-good government agency. Imports are expensive, maintenance is expensive, but charging more for electricity is politically impossible, so KEsh is heavily subsidzed but still doesn’t have enough money to invest in new power plants and transmission lines.

Most of the transition countries of the Balkans have gone through problems with electricity and blackouts. Some (Romania) have come through it superbly, and are set to become major power exporters. Others are doing less well. Albania is at the bottom of the league.

Albania’s erratic Prime Minister Sali Berisha has suggested building a nuclear power plant. Nobody takes this seriously, but it’s an indicator of how desperate the government is getting. Albania has seen decent economic growth — in the 5%-7% range over the last six years — but many observers think that the power situation is going to dent growth significantly in the next few years if something isn’t done.

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