Moscow and Kyiv are still bargaining about transporting gas to the West through Ukrainian gas pipelines. But an agreement between the warring states is just around the corner. Does this mean that tensions in the east will subside? Not necessary.
Ukraine’s linking with the West is connected not only with gas. Behind the scenes, the following geopolitical conflict is brewing: Kyiv wants to “unplug” the electricity supply of Russia.
Communication with the Russian energy system should be terminated so that Ukraine’s political departure from the former fraternal state is backed up by facts. Instead, the country should be integrated into Europe’s continental electricity system. Electricity will be freely moving and selling from the Atlantic coast to Donbas. This provides for the agreement between Ukraine and the EU concluded in 2017.
Tricky energy alliance with the West
The planned connection to the western power system is now questioned. This plan has many opponents. For instance, Poland does not want to get a competitor from a neighboring country offering cheap electricity.
Ukrainian oligarchs and monopolists resist the introduction of EU rules and regulations on climate protection. Belarus imposes its first nuclear power plant as an alternative. “The planned measure,” says Klaus-Dieter Borchardt, vice president of the European Commission’s General Directorate of Energy, “carries an impressive geopolitical charge.”
This is not surprising, because, after the Russian annexation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, both countries practically do not exchange electricity. But the Ukrainian energy company "Ukrenergo" while managing the country's energy system so far depends on the supply of electricity from Russia.
Western politicians, involved in security issues, especially American ones, are pushing Kyiv to quickly connect to the Western power supply system. In their opinion, this will give the country, in addition to independence from Russia, other advantages: its energy system in conjunction with the West European network will function more stably.
In addition, Ukraine will have a tempting opportunity to export electricity to the West. Because even after the catastrophic explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, the country has 15 more nuclear reactors that could produce electricity for export.
But even from a technical point of view, Ukraine’s accession to the European system is a very difficult matter. The European Network of Electricity Transmission System Operators (ENTSO-E) must track whether all conditions are met. They look positively at the expansion of the energy system outside the European Union: even Turkey has been connected to the EU network.
But in the case of Ukraine, several obstacles exist. Indeed, in the energy system of a huge empire, it is necessary to generate a current with a frequency of 50 hertz and maintain it in a stable state.
If this process gets out of control, power fluctuations can occur, which can affect the Western European network through the connecting networks. "Theoretically, this might even lead to a temporary outage," one of the ENTSO-E experts says. In order to prevent such a power line, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland should be modernized, and power plants and the power grid in Ukraine must be equipped with stabilizers.
In a couple of years, prerequisites for the so-called synchronization of Ukraine with the ENTSO-E network can be created. However, at least one more political problem might arise.
At first, the Ukrainian network must prove its “dynamic stability” and, if possible, once in the summer and once in the winter, work out for about a week in an isolated mode, that is, without contact with both Russians and Europeans. And since Ukraine would have to reconnect to the Russian network after the test period, everything would depend on Moscow’s willingness to cooperate. But there is no certainty of this kind of readiness.
The controversy surrounding the so-called Burshtyn energy island shows that the pro-Western orientation of Ukraine has not only supporters in the West. The Burshtyn energy island is an area in the Ivano-Frankivsk region near Lvi), a large power station of which was turned back to the West European frequency of 50 hertz in 2002.
This bridgehead of the EU energy network should be expanded in the near future and in the future, it would also include one of the units of the Khmelnytsky NPP. Such is the plan of at least one group of Western investors led by former chief of the Swiss energy concern Alpiq Hans Schweikardt.
Thus Schweikardt, the current chairman of the Board of Directors of the Polish company Polenergia, intends, together with the French energy giant EdF and the American nuclear concern Westinghouse, to mobilize 1000 megawatts of energy for exporting energy to Poland and further to the Baltic states and simulate the further connection of all of Ukraine in a small format.
An important advantage of the "energy bridge" for Ukraine is the hard currency received from the export of electricity, which can be used to upgrade power plants and infrastructure.
The European Commission favorably treats the idea of expansion of the Burshtyn energy island, although the implementation of this project is technically connected with a piquant detail: the border between the West European and Russian energy networks will pass exactly through the territory of the Khmelnytsky nuclear power plant between two Russian reactors or, as Ukraine now calls it, "Soviet" production.
But the resistance to the Burshtyn project is great, and this proves that Ukraine’s accession to the European network has not yet matured politically. The established energy oligopoly in the country is afraid of competition from the countries of Central Europe.
The prospect of introducing EU standards in electricity supply up to participation in the carbon dioxide certification system does not delight the oligarchs of the chemical and coal industries. More or less openly, they are already lobbying for the laying of a direct current line to the new Belarusian nuclear power plant in Ostrovets, which would practically become an alternative to connecting to the EU network and isolating the Ukrainian energy market from the Western European one.