CEOL - Serbs urged to save energy as temperatures plunge

BELGRADE, Dec 27, 1999 -- (Reuters) Serbia's power company urged consumers over the weekend to conserve electricity as the system, already weakened by NATO bomb damage, was faltering in an early winter freeze with temperatures hitting 10 degrees below zero.

Many Belgraders complained about freezing homes, while some experienced power cuts during the day and some had no water.

Instead of the usual 18 degrees Celsius, most Belgrade residents said temperatures at homes did not exceed 15 degrees.

"Elektroprivreda Srbije (EPS) produced on Friday 133 million kWh, the largest daily output this season. But even that was insufficient to meet an extremely high consumption of 143 million kWh," the utility said in a news release.

Elektroprivreda had said earlier this week that its production was steady and growing thanks to improved hydrology but in some areas it was hampered by frozen coal mines.

Additional electricity was being imported from neighboring power grids, the company said.

Parts of Serbia bordering on Bosnia and Montenegro have been without electricity for several days because of damage caused by heavy snow.

Elektroprivreda urged 3.2 million households in Serbia to conserve energy to avoid a collapse of the system.

Local oil and gas industry sources said a collapse had been averted so far by the simple measure of shutting down the largest industrial consumers, keeping only the food-processing industry running.

EPS blamed the growing demand on a poor supply of natural gas to central heating plants across the snowbound republic, suffering from severe cold for the third consecutive day.

Early on Friday afternoon, the outside temperature dipped to 16 degrees Celsius below zero. The situation slightly improved on Saturday as it gradually warmed to five degrees below zero.

Around a third of Serbia's power grid was heavily damaged during the March-to-June NATO air war on the country. EPS said it had managed to repair some of the damage, but would not be able to endure such high electricity consumption much longer.

Still subject to an international oil embargo, Serbia has pinned its hopes on a steady gas supply from its Orthodox Slav ally, Russia and the natural gas monopoly Gazprom there.

But Gazprom has agreed only to humanitarian deliveries of some 250,000 cubic meters of gas per hour, well under Serbia's normal requirement of 600,000-650,000 cubic meters per hour.

The Serbian government has asked Moscow to approve additional deliveries of 100,000 cubic meters of gas per hour, but received no response from the Russian side yet.

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