Energy shortage in Serbia nears dramatic level

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia, AP

Serbia’s energy crisis worsened Tuesday with a state of emergency declared in one town and several factories shutting down elsewhere because of electricity cutoffs.

In the central Serbian town of Cacak, local authorities introduced a state of emergency after a major relay station broke down and the population of more than 80,000 people was plunged into darkness for more than 24 hours.

Cacak’s deputy mayor, Mile Kandic, announced that all factories, shops, schools and kindergartens would be temporarily closed. Several other factories throughout Serbia were also closed.

The state power company in Yugoslavia’s main republic Serbia — home to more than 90 percent of the country’s 10 million people — announced eight to 10 hour blackouts throughout the country.

Dragan Batalo, deputy general director of the Serbia’s power grid, told Belgrade’s Radio B92 that Serbia is no longer illegally importing electricity from neighboring countries, meaning without paying for it.

Batalo said the water level in Danube will soon be high enough for a restart of the major power plant of Drmno, east of Belgrade. He called for rationing the country’s dwindling electricity supplies and urged the public to show understanding and patience.

“Even though the cutoffs are drastic, they make sense,” Batalo said. “It was the only way for the system to stabilize.”

Officials cite several reasons for the energy shortage. A summer drought and an abnormally mild winter have lowered water levels of the Danube and Sava Rivers, cutting back on hydroelectric production.

Yugoslavia and other countries of the Balkans are tied together in a regional power grid, which allows them to import electricity from the other in times of need. However, because of high demands elsewhere and Belgrade’s severe economic problems, officials say imports can make up only about 20 percent of the shortfall.

The power grid was poorly maintained during the administration of ousted President Slobodan Milosevic, when the government was severely strapped for cash because of international sanctions imposed because of the ethnic wars in the Balkans.