YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian government announced on Tuesday the impending end of the two-decade-long construction of a new major thermal-power plant located in the central town of Hrazdan.
Energy and Natural Resources Minister Armen Movsisian said the Fifth Block of the Hrazdan power plant owned by Russia’s Gazprom energy conglomerate will go on stream by next April.
Movsisian said that work on the facility is essentially complete and that its inauguration was deliberately delayed until after this winter. “Since we don’t know just how cold the winter will be, this could create some difficulties,” he told reporters.
The construction work began in the late 1980s and ground to a halt following the Soviet collapse. The government tried unsuccessfully to finish it in the late 1990s.
Gazprom acquired the incomplete facility in 2006 as part of a complex agreement with Yerevan that also raised its controlling stake in Armenia’s gas distribution network. The Russians pledged to spend more than $200 million on completing the protracted construction by 2011.
The Fifth Block will be more powerful and efficient than the four other operating units of the Hrazdan plant that are owned by another Russian energy giant, RAO Unified Energy Systems (UES). Its launch will thus significantly boost Armenia’s power generating capacity.
The Armenian government already inaugurated last April another state-of-the-art plant that was built in Yerevan in place of an obsolete facility with a $247 million loan provided by a Japanese development bank. The long-term loan was disbursed to the Armenian government on concessional terms in 2007.
The new gas-powered plants should pave the way for large-scale Armenian imports of natural gas from neighboring Iran through a pipeline constructed in late 2008. Armenia began receiving modest amounts of Iranian gas in May last year. With Russian gas essentially meeting its domestic needs, the bulk of that gas is due to be converted into electricity and exported to the Islamic Republic.
The Armenian energy sector has had a surplus capacity ever since emerging from a severe post-Soviet crisis in the mid-1990s thanks to the reopening of the nuclear power station at Metsamor. The plant’s sole operating reactor accounts for about 40 percent of Armenian electricity production.