The CEO of Ukraine Energy Company Tried to Keep the Lights on During the War

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The CEO of Ukraine Energy Company Tried to Keep the Lights on During the War

Supplying electricity to millions of customers in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion is, to say the least, challenging. Especially when the electricity grid itself becomes the target.

“Now we see them attack transmission lines, substations, power generation stations,” said Maxim Timchenko, chief executive officer of DTEK, a large private energy company in Ukraine. Early in the war, he said, the Russian military was wary of ruining vital civilian infrastructure.

Now, he said, “they are no longer selective.”

In a video call from an undisclosed location in western Ukraine, Mr Timchenko described how DTEK, which supplies about 20 percent of Ukraine’s electricity, and other Ukrainian utilities scrambled to keep the lights on during the Russian offensive. Was being

Amid the urgency, Ukraine, which is not a member of the European Union, has also managed to achieve in a matter of weeks something it had worked on for years: a replacement for the power grids of neighboring EU member states. Linkup, according to Mr. Timchenko, Romania, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary.

“This will help Ukraine stabilize its electricity system, keep homes warm and light up in these dark times,” Europe’s Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said in a statement. “In this region, Ukraine is now part of Europe,” she said.

In case of a major hit to its electricity system, Ukraine can now apply for emergency power supply from the European system, Mr Timchenko said. Ukraine also severed its electricity connections with Russia and Belarus just before the invasion in order to establish independence from power sources in hostile countries.

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When its transmission lines are damaged or severed, DTEK arranges for Ukrainian soldiers to escort its emergency repair workers wearing flak jackets to the affected sites. Mr Timchenko said that six of DTEK’s approximately 60,000 employees were killed during the war, although not while performing duties for the company.

Overall, Mr Timchenko said, Ukraine’s electricity operations were “relatively stable”. However, it seems hard to keep things that way. The bulk of electricity for Ukraine’s homes comes from four nuclear plants, and Europe’s largest nuclear power station in Zaporizhzhya, now occupied by Russian troops after the attack.

So far, he said, electricity consumption has decreased by about one-third before the attack on February 24. This is due to a decline in economic activity and damage that cannot be repaired in the short term in places such as Mariupol, a city on the Black Sea coast that has been subjected to heavy Russian bombardment, and Kharkiv, the second largest city, which also suffered major damage. has been retained. Mr Timchenko estimated that 1.3 million customers in Ukraine are actually disconnected.

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In Luhansk, one of DTEK’s eight conventional fossil fuel-burning power plants has been cut because of the invasion, and he is concerned about another unit that is near Russian lines and may be cut off in the event of an advance. Is. DTEK converted some of the production units to natural gas after the coal supply stopped.

Mr Timchenko said only a third of the company’s 3.8 million customers were now paying their bills, although the banking system continues to function. He added that the company – which is eventually owned by Rinat Akhmetov, often described as Ukraine’s richest man – still has cash reserves. But he said the injection of international aid to state-owned power operators is in dire need.

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