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Business

Russia Seeks Power-Bridge to Europe

Russia wants to link its power grid to Europe’s and refashion electricity markets from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific.

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Meet the neighbours – workers at Rostov, Russia's only new nuclear plant since the Soviet era

Russian electricity king Anatoly Chubais’ weekend suggestion that Russia should link its power system to Europe’s may be just a passing dream.

Or it may be advance notice of a revolution in electricity markets spanning thirteen time zones.

Linking Russian and European markets would theoretically make it possible for a nuclear reactor in Siberia to light street-lamps in Lisbon, or for a hydroelectric dam in Germany to power personal computers in St. Petersburg.

It would add unprecedented geographical breadth to a trend of convergence that in recent years has swept through the world’s power industry, further boosting price transparency and – energy companies would hope – cost efficiency.

Chubais, chairman of Russia’s giant Unified Energy Systems (UES), told Reuters on Sunday that his idea passed initial muster with the European Commissioner for Transport and Energy, Loyola de Palacio, who he met at the World Economic Forum in New York.

He now plans a formal proposal to former Soviet republics in a March meeting of the electrical energy council of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Shocking stuff

One of the problems for Europe in such a deal is exposure to much cheaper markets.

If Russian electricity remains as comparatively cheap as it is today and European state commitments to national power companies weaken, a link could render Western electricity too expensive to sell.

That would be a dramatic blow to a long-protected EU industry – the sort which French and German companies fear most as the continent integrates markets West and East.

Until now, there’s been no such risk. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic became the first countries to break free from the power grid of the Eastern bloc in 1995, when they switched to EU standards and physically linked up.

Their move shifted the border between eastern and western grids to Poland’s borders with the former Soviet republics of Lithuania and Belarus, plus the Russian province of Kaliningrad.

The lines for a Russian-European link would likely run through this region, overlapping a bilateral project already underway to link Lithuania to Poland.

That smaller deal will soon link former Soviet and European grids so that Lithuania's giant nuclear facility can export excess electricity west, through Poland to continental Europe and Scandinavia.

There are no plans to let Russia piggyback on those power lines, says an energy specialist for the Polish Ministry of Economy, Elzbieta Wroblesska.

"It’s not perceived as a line for the purpose of trade with Russia," she told DW-WORLD.

Apart from that project, the only current link between Poland and the former Soviet Union is a small electric exchange between Belarus and the eastern Polish region of Bialystok.

While people in the east pay pennies for electricity, consumers in the EU pay euros. That could change, supposing the markets can bear it.

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