Russian power distributors face bankruptcy

RUSSIA - A leading investor in Russia's electricity market says conditions are so bad that in the industry that there will be bankruptcies in the industry in the first quarter of 2009.

Mikhail Slobodin, the president of Integrated Energy System, or IES, the country's largest private electricity producer, was quoted in the Moscow Times newspaper and his comments were supported by OGK-2 chairman Stanislav Neveynitsyn who said that he expected the distributing companies to "blow up" soon.

"Electricity distributors alone will need some 30 billion rubles ($1.1 billion) in the fourth quarter to refinance debt, " said Slobodin. Distributors' debt to generators reached 22.7 billion rubles ($840 million) in the week of November 7 to 13, an increase of 1.3 billion rubles from a week earlier, the Market Council, said in a statement.

The industry faces mounting debt from unpaid bills and the part that operates on credit is finding that short-term loans have dried up.

IES has its own problem with late payments, taking money allotted for repayment out of the system and making it difficult to prepare for winter, said Slobodin, who heads the Council of Electricity Producers, which comprises all major electricity generators. "The industry is using a legal loophole that prevents us from cutting them off from electricity supplies immediately," Slobodin said in an interview, reported in the Moscow Times.

Demand for electricity from big consumers is sharply down as industrial production is slashed. Overall demand slowed down by 6.3 per cent from November 7 to 13, compared to the same period last year, according to the Market Council.

"We expect consumption to fall by about 30 percent next year," said Yefimova of the Tver distribution company.

Slobodin predicted a wave of job cuts and production optimization throughout the electricity sector as soon as the difficult winter period ends.

A reassessment of the planned infrastructure expansion and refurbishment plan is underway, although many wholesale and territorial generating companies inherited obligations for capital investment when they acquired the assets from the state monopoly RAO UES. In the privatization of the sector, investors agreed to spend 4 trillion rubles in the construction of new power stations under strict deadlines. Investors that fail to undertake power plant construction projects on time face the prospect of a fine of up to 25 per cent of the station's constructions costs.

Generators will face an overall deficit of $27 billion to $28 billion in implementing their investment programs by 2012, said Konstantin Gulyayev, a utilities analyst with Kapital Investment Group.



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