Working trip to Brest Oblast

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The Energy Ministry needs to ramp up efforts to resolve lingering problems of the industry, namely the failure to observe the terms of investment projects to upgrade the Belarusian energy system, low level of control over the targeted use of funds. The resolution of these problems will enhance Belarus’ energy security, reduce the GDP energy intensity, create a just and transparent system of energy tariffs formation for legal entities and the population. The statement was made by President of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko during the visit to the Bereza state district power plant on 14 August.

The head of state was informed about the fulfillment of his instructions to improve the Belarusian power grid. According to Energy Minister of Belarus Vladimir Potupchik, the modernization of the Belarusian power grid helped save 2.058 billion cubic meters of gas, or the equivalent of $650 million. In his words, the measures taken will allow saving 1.130 billion cubic meters of gas, or $260 million annually starting from 2015.

Vladimir Potupchik noted that although Belarus pays 1.7 times more for gas compared to Russia, the cost of electricity and heat energy production is the same. However, energy rates for Belarus’ production sector are higher. According to the minister, this situation is the result of cross-subsidizing. Cross-subsidies are the reason why households in Belarus pay 5 times less for energy than those in Russia. Vladimir Potupchik noted that energy rates have been reduced for the production sector for the first time in 2014. This year cross-subsidies have been cut by $250 million.

The President instructed the State Control Committee to supervise electricity ratemaking.

“We need to carefully analyze these and other matters,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said addressing First Deputy Chairman of the State Control Committee Leonid Anfimov.

“We need to analyze other issues as well,” Aleksandr Lukashenko added.

The Bereza state district power plant is one of the largest power plants in Belarus. It supplies energy to Belarusian enterprises, the housing and utilities sector of Beloozersk. The power plant operates seven power-generating units. The first unit was launched in December 1961, the seventh – in march 2014. Power-generating unit No. 4 was modernized in 2003, power-generating unit No. 3 was revamped in 2005.

Currently, the power plant continues the upgrade of unit No. 5, which was supposed to be completed in 2010. The upgrade project envisages increasing the unit capacity from 160MW to 240MW. As the President was informed, his instruction on putting the unit into operation has not been fulfilled yet. At the same time, specialists say, the unit operates smoothly and produces the maximum of 163MW.

Aleksandr Lukashenko gave an instruction to reach the project capacity of unit No. 5 as soon as possible.

“If you started the unit just to show me that it works, and then it stops, no matter the reasons, or breaks down altogether, you will have no one to blame but yourselves! You will have no excuses to justify your story! Because I know all the intricate steps that were taken in the run-up to the visit. I was planning to come here a long time ago. But since you had nothing to show, there was no reason to come. Just 3 or 5 days ago you could start the turbine and it was the 25th attempt of yours," the head of state said. “This is why I am asking whether you have settled all the issues,” the President asked. He was assured that the turbine will operate smoothly and will soon reach the nominal capacity.

“The criminal case which has been opened and for some unknown reason has been recently held back will be resumed. Those guilty will be held accountable for all their wrongdoings,” the President stressed. “They must know how to use public money. All the expenses, as a hardest burden, lay on the shoulders of the population, mainly the production sector in the form of higher energy costs,” the head of state said. The Belarusian leader stressed that if the modernization of the unit had been completed in time, we would not have been talking about missed profits. Today we need to go into extra expenditure. “The responsibility will be tough, no one will be spared,” the President said.

Speaking to the personnel of the Bereza state district power plant, Aleksandr Lukashenko said that he visited the facility to see if unit No.5 was commissioned. “I have come here to see if my instruction has been fulfilled. Two units have been upgraded so far, but these were two different projects. There are no complaints about the project implemented in cooperation with China and there are a lot of issues related to the project done together with Russia,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

“You say water is too hot in the lake and you cannot cool it down. It gives another type of steam and so on. Ok, let us wait until we have the proper water temperature, not 26°C but 15°C or 12°C, and make the final conclusions,” the President said. The further modernization of the plant will depend on the findings of experts, the head of state added.

“China has sent its specialists here in the run-up to the President’s visit. Yet we do not see representatives of Russia here,” the head of state added.

The Chinese machine-building and engineering corporation was responsible for the turn-key construction of combined cycle power unit No. 7. The construction of the unit was started in February 2011. The unit was switched on for the first time on 1 November 2013. In March 2014 it was launched.

Aleksandr Lukashenko thanked Chinese partners for the construction of the facility and invited them to take part in the modernization of other power-generating facilities in Belarus.

During the working trip the President also answered a number of questions of the personnel.

Aleksandr Lukashenko has promised to increase teachers’ salaries gradually.

“We have no other option but to increase salaries for teachers,” the head of state said. He reminded that it had already been done for kindergarten employees. “I think this will hardly be enough. We need to have money in the budget for that. Now we are optimizing the entire structure of education system. We will see how it will go. After that we will increase salaries for teachers,” the President said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko did not provide specific figures, but assured: “We will discuss the matter regarding the pay rise”. “In the nearest future, most likely in September, you will learn about it,” the President added.

The President also spoke about the possible meeting between the Customs Union leaders and the President of Ukraine.

Aleksandr Lukashenko said that the presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus are ready to hold a meeting with Ukrainian President Piotr Poroshenko in Minsk to discuss topical issues.

This matter is on the agenda, because there are many things the parties need to discuss, the head of state said. One of them is Ukraine’s association agreement with the European Union. “We are very concerned about it. We do not want EU products to come from Ukraine at a zero customs rate and strangle the economies of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan. These apprehensions are natural. Any country would not want it. Therefore, we are so much concerned about it,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

“Second, we need to discuss Russia’s decision to ban the import of some foods and the impact of this ban on the Customs Union,” the Belarusian leader said.

“I suggested inviting Piotr Poroshenko to join our discussion of these issues and issues facing Ukraine. We will discuss them if Piotr Poroshenko is willing. After all, these problems need to be discussed anyway. It is very important for Ukraine, because Russia is gradually closing its market for some products from Ukraine. The products in question are alcoholic beverages, dairy and meat products,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

He informed that he had spoken twice both with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev a day before and they do not mind holding the meeting. According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, he had discussed the matter with Piotr Poroshenko late at night the day before yesterday.

“Nobody rejects this idea. All of them are ready to come to Minsk. Proposals were put forward to engage some other party in the talks, like the European Union or the United States, provided they are interested in stabilizing the economic, military and political situation. If so, let us meet in Minsk and discuss it. We do not reject anyone. This is a common position of the three presidents of the Eurasian Economic Union,” the Belarusian head of state said.

He reiterated that the three presidents of the Eurasian Economic Union share their views on the matter. Now the decision is up to Ukraine. “If it decides to discuss these issues, we will meet and discuss them. If not, that’s their choice,” the Belarusian leader said.