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Electricity prices to double in Abkhazia as rolling blackouts return

9 December 2022
Christmas lights in Sukhumi (Sukhum). Photo: OC Media

The price of electricity in Abkhazia is to almost double for the second time in less than a year, representing a 225% increase on the previous year. As a deal with Russia expires, it remains unclear how Abkhazia will meet its energy needs in the year ahead. 

From 1 January, the price per kilowatt hour of electricity will rise from ₽0.70 ($0.01) to ₽1.30 ($0.02). The price previously rose from  ₽0.40 per kilowatt hour in July.

The announcement came as Abkhazia is set to once again reintroduce rolling blackouts, which have become increasingly common in the past six years.

Abkhazia largely depends on hydroelectric power to generate electricity. Lower levels of precipitation have contributed to seasonal power outages since 2016, particularly prevalent during the ‘drought period’ between November and April.

The news of the increased tariffs and the return of rolling blackouts led to a wave of criticism of the authorities online, mostly anonymous.

Inal Lazba, a former head of Energosbyt, a subdivision of the state-owned power company Chernomorenergo, criticised the authorities for raising tariffs while failing to provide relief to socially vulnerable households.

‘It is necessary to review the preferential policy for the benefit of social justice’, Lazba said in a post on Facebook.

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He added that for people with severe disabilities or families with many children, ₽1,300 ($21) per month, ‘the norm for a house in a village’ was a ‘noticeable expense’. 

‘There are no benefits for these groups of people at the moment. Time is running out; debts are accumulating’, Lazba said. 

He also encouraged people to pay for the outstanding electricity on their meters in order to avoid having to pay at the higher rate come January.

Abkhazia depends on Russian energy whenever hydroelectric power is not available, whether for reasons of low water levels, unexpected emergencies, or repair work. 

In November, Russia agreed to deliver 280 million kilowatt hours before the end of the year. However, at Abkhazia’s current rate of daily consumption, it will require an inflow of 340 million kilowatt hours. Energy experts blame this difference, which prompted the reintroduction of blackouts,  on the high energy demands of cryptocurrency mining.

The deal with Russia expires on 31 December, but it is unclear what might succeed it. Abkhazia will not be able to use hydroelectric power until spring, when the glaciers melt and water levels in the Enguri (Ingur) reservoir increase enough to generate power.

However, despite the blackouts, rising prices, and uncertainty about the future, for some, life continues much as normal, with no mention of skimping on electricity in the run-up to the festive season. 

In the yard of a building in the New District of Sukhumi (Sukhum), neighbours chipped in to buy 600 metres of Christmas lights for their yard, which they have hung along the housefront and wrapped around trees. 

Pavel, a resident of the building, said that he and his neighbours would spend New Year’s Eve together in the ‘patskha’ (an outdoor kitchen typical to the region) that they built nearby. 

‘We have a fireplace there [and] we will warm up at the fire when the electricity is turned off. And we’ll probably connect the Christmas lights to an uninterrupted power supply, so that the festive mood isn’t darkened by the blackouts.’

 For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.

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