Half of Serbia without Power as Main Plant Fails

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BELGRADE, Oct 25, 2000 -- (Reuters) Almost half of Serbia was left without electricity on Wednesday morning after a failure of four units at the largest power generating plant near Belgrade, a top Yugoslav energy sector official was quoted as saying.

"Technical problems caused a failure of four blocks of the thermoelectric power plant Nikola Tesla A with a total capacity of 1,150 MW," state news agency Tanjug quoted Dragan Vignjevic, the chief dispatcher of Elektroprivreda Srbije (EPS), as saying.

"The power system now lacks a total of 1,800 MW," he added. "The failure has left 45 percent of consumers in Serbia without electricity."

The system was expected to be partially restored by 1800 (1600 GMT).

EPS launched four-hour blackouts last Friday as falling temperatures caused consumption to begin exceeding generating capacity. In practice, this means households are left without electricity eight hours a day.

Electricity consumption in Serbia, the main republic in the Yugoslav federation, was estimated at around 100 million kWh and output ran at around 80 million kWh.

"Power cuts will remain in place until November 1. The situation could then improve or worsen depending on quantities of natural gas coming from Hungary," Vignjevic told Blic daily.

Many Serbian households are linked to a central heating system, which uses gas or gas oil. Serbia lacks both.

The association of Serbian heating plants said on Tuesday the installations were technically prepared for the heating season but had no fuel to feed the plants. The heating season was supposed to start on October 15.

Yugoslavia's central bank has paid USD 5 million each for imports of gas and electricity.

But despite promises, the Hungarian gas monopoly MOL has not started to deliver, according to Yugoslav officials appointed after President Vojislav Kostunica took office this month.

"The Hungarians have been shown a document that proves our payment of five million U.S. dollars for the gas. It is difficult to say what's going on," said Mladjan Dinkic, who is informally performing the duties of central bank governor.

EPS officials said MOL did not want to let the gas through until a USD 180,000 debt was settled.

Serbia has been getting natural gas from Russia via Hungary over the past years of international isolation. It owes Russia more than USD 300 million for the gas delivered.

Kostunica is expected to travel to Moscow later this week and, among other things, discuss the issue of emergency gas imports.

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-- Doris (reaper@pacifier.com), October 25, 2000

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