YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian government reiterated its pledge to make Armenia more reliant on renewable sources of energy on Tuesday as it inaugurated the country’s first wind power plant financed by neighboring Iran.
The facility–the first of its kind in the South Caucasus–has been built with the help of $3.5 million provided by the Iranian government. It consists of four wind turbines perched on a mountain pass in the northern Lori region.
Energy Minister Armen Movsisian and his Iranian counterpart Parviz Fattah–who presided over the opening ceremony–held up the plant as an example of growing ties between the energy sectors of the two countries. Fattah said that cooperation will deepen further under Iran’s new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The combined power of the wind turbines–2.6 megawatts–is very modest compared to that of Armenia’s leading power plants. The sole operating reactor of the Medzamor nuclear plant–for example–has a capacity of 360 megawatts.
Still–electricity generated by wind should be enough to meet the needs of the nearby town of Stepanavan and surrounding villages. According to Deputy Energy Minister Areg Galstian–the Armenian government plans to expand the new plant to 20 megawatts.
"We will not content ourselves with these four turbines," he said–promising to continue the project.
The government intends to build similar facilities in other parts of Armenia. Currently they are looking into the Shirak region and the southeastern Syunik region. "We will conduct feasibility studies all over the country," Movsisian said.
Part of the government’s broader energy strategy is reducing Armenia’s dependence on nuclear fuel and natural gas–which together provide 80 percent of its electricity. This is why Russia’s decision to double the cost of natural gas to Armenia’starting January 1 is expected to greatly increase the price of electricity in the country.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian expressed his dismay at Russia’s move on Monday–which analysts say was aimed at states that pursue pro-Western foreign policies. Although Armenia maintains close political and military ties with Russia and has never expressed a desire to join NATO–it was not exempted from the Russian price hikes.
But Movsisian said the Russian price increase was inevitable–arguing that the existing gas tariff of $56 per thousand cubic meters is well below the international level. "We knew that the prices will go up one day," he said. "But I think there won’t be big [economic] shocks as a result."
Movsisian indicated that Yerevan is currently negotiating with the Russian side in a bid to minimize the price hike. "Let’s wait and see what results we can achieve," he added.
Officials at Movsisian’s ministry estimate that Armenia has the potential to meet as much as 70 percent of its energy needs with renewable energy sources such as solar–hydroelectric–and wind by 2020. Hydroelectric power looks especially promising for the mountainous country where fast-flowing rivers currently account for 20 percent of electricity production.
The Energy Ministry hopes to spur the construction of dozens of small hydroelectric plants over the next decade. Western donors–including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development–are already financially contributing to the effort.
In addition–Armenia and Iran plan to build a big hydroelectric plant on the Arax River that runs along their border.