Vladimir Marković, Executive Director for Strategic Project Development at Electric Power Industry of Serbia: Attacks of Ministry at EPS – Damage to the State

No problem can be solved with the constant transfer of responsibilities from the ministry to the other participants. It’s like using an “aspirin” for a broken leg. Simply, constant attacks, occasional and amateur statements were the only “support” that EPS received from the Ministry of Energy

The energy crisis in Europe has increased the prices of both gas and electricity, and in addition to the price hurricane, Serbia was hit by a major storm in the production of coal and electricity one weekend. Almost all units of the Nikola Tesla Thermal Power Plant had stopped, but the Electric Power Industry of Serbia restored the network in a relatively short time. Vladimir Marković, Executive Director for Strategic Project Development at Electric Power Industry of Serbia (EPS), says for Politika that the supply of electricity was never endangered, EPS responded quickly and efficiently, and the production in thermal power plants was “increased” with the effort of experts who worked day and night.

How did EPS cope with that near collapse?

Despite the production problems, citizens and the economy did not feel the shortage of electricity. Power was imported and EPS normalized production. Import was at high prices, but that burden was borne only by EPS, there are no changes in prices for citizens and the economy. Serbia is experiencing economic growth and EPS, as part of that process, managed to bear all by itself the burden of high stock market prices. At a time when the whole of Europe is going through the biggest energy crisis so far, when restrictions are being announced in Europe and when factories are closing due to lack of electricity, Serbia has the security of supply. EPS operates, generates electricity, and suffers all criticism, partly justified, due to production problems. However, the unjustified criticism from the Ministry of Energy during the crisis did not stop. We must not forget that EPS employs professional, experienced, and hard-working people. Their work is not appreciated enough, and they are often the first to be attacked by the public. People should be appreciated for their deeds and we must not fall into the trap of lobbyists who want to destroy EPS through renewable energy projects, solar panels, and wind farms, which will eventually be paid for by the citizens. The stability of Serbia is in a strong EPS and it is time to start appreciating that.

How did that ministry criticize you?

Crises are overcome by united efforts and joint action with one goal, to normalize the situation that led to the shock. The question is why EPS did not receive the support of the competent ministry, which should be the link between all parts of the energy sector. False statements and analyses, incompetent assessments, and lack of constructive solutions were the main features of the ministry’s role during this crisis. No problem can be solved with the constant transfer of responsibilities from the ministry to the other participants. It’s like using an “aspirin” for a broken leg. Simply, constant attacks, occasional and amateur statements were the only “support” that EPS received from the Ministry of Energy. The energy crisis from Europe spilled over to Serbia because we are not an island. But we are successfully fighting the crisis and we are ready to move on. EPS knows what it is doing and where it is going. Every day worldwide there are damages in industrial plants, these problems in production are overcome with knowledge and calmness and synergy of all actors. In such situations, all experts and the complete knowledge that EPS managed to preserve are mobilized. Those are the facts.

Why do you think the Ministry is criticizing now?

For days, the assistants to the Minister of Energy actually gave false statements to everyone who wanted to see the weakened EPS. Specifically, Assistant Minister, Dejan Milijanović, a miner by vocation, who has spent the last 10 years in all management positions of mining exploitation in EPS, has now annulled his entire career through his untrue statements. Milijanović is “the most deserving” for the state of readiness of the mining fields in “Kolubara” and “Kostolac” because until a few months ago he was the first man for coal production in EPS. During his tenure, overhauls of mining equipment were not adequately scheduled nor implemented, and coal quality management was not completed. The damage caused by his inaction is now being repaired by his fellow miners. The Ministry is just adding fuel to the fire. It is as if they forget that EPS is a production company, a brand, and pride of Serbia, support of the stability of the economy and the whole society. Electricity is the product of complex and numerous technological processes from mines to thermal power plants and then the transmission and distribution of electricity. Thanks to maintenance and modernization, EPS operates with a complete mechanical and electrical industry, with almost 100,000 workers in all related sectors of construction, services, mechanical engineering … EPS has several generations of young engineers who have shown the trust they have gained. One example is the overhaul of unit B1 in TENT. Generations of young engineers now have their future in EPS because we have a vision and development strategy for specific projects.

What are these projects?

Since 2016, the largest investment cycle has been launched. We invest about EUR 300 million annually, and even 70 percent of the value of the investments remains in Serbia, the rest are technologies and equipment from abroad that we do not have. EPS contributes to GDP, three percent directly and just as much indirectly. Milorad Grčić, Acting Director of EPS, started the largest investment cycle, and underway are environmental projects for desulphurization in TENT A and B worth about EUR 400 million. Major overhauls of the largest volume in the history of EPS are being done, and the complete equipment of the plant is being changed. The project of unit B3 construction in “Kostolac” was started from zero, the hydropower plants “Đerdap 1”, “Đerdap 2” are being modernized, and the rehabilitation of HPP “Bajina Bašta” and “Zvornik” have been completed. Despite inherited bad contracts with contractors, EPS experts are the ones pushing all the projects. They are responsible for the selection of the best technologies and equipment that will enable environmentally friendly operation of thermal power plants in the future and thus provide security of supply. After 35 years, a historical project Buk Bijela for a hydropower plant on the Drina has been initiated and this is the first time that EPS has crossed over the Serbian borders and started with the regional development.

Are you bothered with the Ministry insisting on closing thermal power plants and promoting green energy?

EPS is not against green energy. On the contrary, we develop projects for renewable sources. We are rehabilitating and building new hydropower plants, we are working on projects for solar farms and windfarms. We want to build a new pumped-storage hydropower plant Bistrica, which will be security for the additional construction of renewable resources. However, coal and thermal power plants are our reality. We have to use the resources we already have because there is no economic growth and benefits for our citizens without this. We are investing in the modernization of our thermal power plants and mines in order to meet the requirements of the European laws within environmental protection.

How to provide energy security, reduce coal consumption and increase RES?

We still have to work because energy independence means planned actions and systemic work on a safe supply future. The thermal power plant Kolubara B was envisaged as a replacement capacity for old power plants and at the same time, a strategic reserve in case of crisis or for production of emergency or expensive electricity for export. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Energy has not supported our proposal although we indicated that numerous European countries have thermal strategic reserves. The German, French, Polish thermal power plans are now operating fully during this crisis, using the coal imported from Columbia, and Germans keep their own coal for some future crisis periods. Based on the internal strategic analyses on supply security 2030-2050, EPS does not agree with the tendencies of the Ministry of Energy to increase a share of expensive and unreliable energy sources. This will result in disruption in transmission network operation, a lack of cost-efficient electricity, and a decline in economic competitiveness. In spite of all challenges, lobbies against the strong EPS and experts in energy theory, EPS may not allow being taken into a whirlpool of uncertain energy future of Serbia.

By Politika and EPS

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