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Competition plus the "green" electrification of the whole country
The possible ways to reduce energy tariffs and improve other basic conditions for economic development are argued by Magadan politician and businessman Mikhail Kotov
The social well-being of any populated area is determined by its economic stability, which is primarily based on the availability of energy resources.
This position is characterized by a) the volume of generating capacities sufficient to support the population and meet production needs, b) the presence of branched transmission and distribution networks, and c) the low cost of energy resources for consumers.
The first condition in the overall energy system of the Magadan Region is provided with surplus by four stations, two of which - the Kolymskaya and Ust-Srednekanskaya HPPs - produce the world's cheapest electricity.
As for the network economy of the region, there are, of course, questions here. The most urgent of them is isolation from the all-Russian power supply system, which does not allow selling surplus resources to other subjects of the Federation or foreign countries; decentralized power supply to a number of settlements and even an entire region (Severo-Evensky) using economically ineffective diesel power plants; high percentage of wear of the network complex.
To this we can add the problem with the technological connection of the Orotukan - Palatka - Centralnaya power transmission line under construction to the Ust-Srednekanskaya hydroelectric power station, which has recently alarmed the Kolyma people with the not bright prospect of including the cost of these works in the energy tariff, which is already one of the three highest in the country (4.50 rubles . per kWh, from July 1 2016-th - 4.83 for the population).
There is no doubt that the regional authorities will not allow a threefold increase in the price of electricity. A way out of the difficult situation will be found, especially against the background of the instructions of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin to equalize the energy tariffs of some Far Eastern regions to the average Russian level. There is a certain hope that the implementation of a number of proposals put forward by the Governor and the Government of the Magadan Region will help to "lighten" the tariff, which means to increase the investment attractiveness of the territory.
But maybe we are still missing something in this matter? Perhaps there are other aspects that are worth paying attention to when solving important economic problems? There is, says the general director of Pacific Fishery Company LLC and Mag-Sea International LLC, deputy of the Magadan Regional Duma, president of the Magadan Association of Fishery Industrialists Mikhail Kotov.
- Mikhail Nikolaevich, let's start with the most "painful" issue for the Kolyma residents today - with pricing in the energy sector of the region. Governor Vladimir Pechenyi recently proposed to merge the generating and transmission energy companies of the region - PJSC Kolymaenergo and PJSC Magadanenergo, which should help reduce electricity tariffs. How do you feel about this idea?
- I, together with my colleague in the deputy corps, Alexander Basansky, voiced this idea fifteen years ago. By the way, we became at that time the initiators of the creation of a permanent parliamentary commission to control tariffs.
The state then, unfortunately, took a different path, organizing a separate structure for monitoring prices and tariffs in the executive branch and leaving the legislative aside from addressing these issues.
Our initiative to unite the largest companies in the regional energy market, put forward after a thorough analysis of the situation, was not understood, moreover, they almost accused us of encroaching on the energy security of the region and undermining statehood. And the explanation that we in no way want to undermine anything - on the contrary, we propose to optimize the power system, to remove unnecessary costs, have not been heard.
Today they started talking about it again, already at the suggestion of the head of the territory. That's good, that's right. Such a solution cannot be called popular, but it can help to reduce the energy tariff.
But, in my opinion, it will only partially contribute. Even having united into one company, power engineers will still find hundreds of reasons explaining the high price of the resource: colossal expenditures on the maintenance and repairs of the energy sector, huge losses in the networks, small reservoirs, payment arrears, lack of consumers ...
The increase in the tariff due to the reduction in the volume of electricity consumption is, in my opinion, stories from the evil one. Let me give you a concrete example.
While the cost of electricity was acceptable, all boiler houses at the industrial facilities of the Pacific Fisheries Company and Mag-Sea International operated on electric boilers, that is, they were large subscribers of energy sales.
Now we, like most other enterprises in the region, have switched to coal. Because it is cheaper, even taking into account the cost of refurbishing the boiler rooms. Thus, the reduction in electricity consumption in our region is not a reason, but rather a consequence of the tariff increase.
In these conditions, it is difficult to expect the emergence of new large, and not very large consumers of electricity. Life axiom: if taxes go up, budget revenues decrease; the tariff for the energy resource is growing - its consumption and at the same time the collection of payments are decreasing. Another example from personal practice.
Recently, I spoke with the management of a reputable Chinese company regarding its participation in our project for the construction of a fish processing plant on the territory of the Magadan Region - a powerful, modern, capable of raising the regional market to the international level.
Potential Chinese partners were initially interested in the project, but when they carefully studied the economic calculations, they came to a shock.
- Are you afraid of electricity prices?
- Quite right, but not only. In China, energy resources are also much cheaper, and the tax burden for socially oriented enterprises is zero, and significant government support is provided for lending, in matters of technical re-equipment of production.
What can we boast about? The overwhelming cost of bank loans? Huge customs and port fees? Sky-high fines from the border guard? But there is also the Federal Migration Service with such strict rules that foreigners simply cannot understand this.
An outrageous incident occurred with our fishermen at the end of February. The vessel, having on board foreign workers whose visas were approaching the end of their visa, was sailing from the fishing area to Vladivostok. There, foreign citizens had to go ashore and go home.
However, on the way, the ship fell into ice - as you know, this winter in the Sea of Okhotsk there is a very difficult ice situation, and a storm also broke out. We hung out for five days ...
Realizing that they were not in time for the port on time, the fishermen sent a telegram to the regional structure of the FMS in advance with a warning of the delay and an explanation of its reason. However, the migration service, apparently not finding the reason sufficiently objective, reported in a return telegram that the company would be fined a total of 2,5 million rubles for violating migration rules.
And they were fined! And what are the fishermen to blame? What have we done that we should have been punished for? And if this were a single example of absurd formalism! How can you develop your business in such conditions ??
- "Dura lex, sed lex", as the ancient Romans used to say.
- I agree that the laws should be strict, but at the same time also reasonable! Not hindering, but contributing to the development of the economy - the foundation of the state, the guarantee of its well-being, social stability and political independence.
For some reason, we do not want to start thinking and acting from this very position. We are not trying to understand that the manufacturer does not set a price for the product on a whim. He invests his costs in it, and the less of them, the more attractive the final cost of the product for the consumer.
Why do prices for local agricultural products "bite"? Yes, because in the structure of its prime cost, the cost of electricity reaches 60 percent! Fuel costs account for 40 percent of the prime cost of the products of Magadan fishing companies.
But farmers and fishermen are not criticized for the high cost of vegetables, dairy and meat products, fish and seafood.
- So, this is the cost of goods of resource supplying companies ...
- The cost of producing a kilowatt of electricity in the region today is 1.80 rubles. And before the commissioning of the first stage of the Ust-Srednekanskaya HPP (whose products are not in demand today due to the lack of power lines), the cost of electricity at the Kolymskaya HPP, which is only a third involved today, was less than 90 kopecks.
Ruble eighty and four fifty - while the resource gets from the manufacturer through the intermediary supplier to the consumer, it rises in price by 2,5 times! This is for the population. For business entities, the difference is even greater.
By the way, did you know that this consumer priority is observed only in Russia? All over the world, it is the opposite: for the population, electricity is more expensive than for enterprises. Because the state is interested in the development of its economy, in the expansion of the production sphere, in the growth of the turnover of funds, and this can be achieved only if the goods are affordable for the buyer.
An entrepreneur must first of all think about the quality and range of products, their competitiveness in the market. And saving energy is easier, more logical and more efficient to do at home!
If our country adopted this principle of tariff setting, the real sector of the economy would breathe much easier. This is one point. Second. Energy resources will not be available in Magadan Oblast or in any other region as long as the country's energy sector is monopolized.
In the plane of natural monopolies, the laws of the market do not work. Due to their monopoly power, resource workers tend to charge and charge a higher price than a competitive company with the same costs would do.
In our North, where extreme climatic and weather conditions predetermine a large "energy intensity" of life, and, consequently, raise the energy industry to the rank of the most important factor in life support, the power of natural monopolies is raised to the level of absolute. If you want to survive, pay what they say. No options.
If we also take into account the fact that the state actually deprived the northerners of its guarantees, stopped caring about them, shifting the burden of obligations to pay northern allowances and coefficients, paying for vacation travel on the shoulders of entrepreneurs, we get a very bleak picture.
There is nothing surprising in the fact that the northern regions of the Far East are emptying. People are just tired of fighting for survival alone.
We can only rejoice for our neighbors - residents of Alaska, who are paid by the authorities annually for the fact that they continue to inhabit this territory (with a milder climate than in Chukotka or Kolyma). 1-2'000 dollars for each family member. Apparently, for the United States, the northernmost state is more expensive than for Russia - its Far North-East.
- Mikhail Nikolayevich, you say that the issue of high energy prices can be fundamentally solved only by replacing the monopoly on the market. How will competition develop in the electric power industry of the Magadan Region in the context of an overabundance of resources?
- On the one hand, yes, it is difficult. On the other hand, take, for example, the village of Evensk with its DESka. The electricity tariff for enterprises in the village is 24 rubles. per kWh. Is it conceivable to develop something there at such a price for a resource?
But at the same time, Evensk, located on the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk, has only ten windless days a year, and if you use this factor, install wind generators on the coast, you can get cheap electricity.
What do you think, if such an alternative appears, the Even residents will want to use it? And a natural monopolist, who today drives diesel and does not blow his head, will not think about how to optimize his production so that his product becomes competitive? Say, will he bring solar batteries or a nuclear mini-nuclear power plant to the village?
There was such a project under the first regional governor Valentin Tsvetkov. Quite a real project, sorry, Valentin Ivanovich did not have time to implement it during his lifetime.
No matter how the oil kings resist, lobbying their interests at all levels, the future of the planet is alternative, "green", renewable energy sources, and the progressive part of humanity not only understands this, but also implements specific projects today.
In early February of this year, I came across a curious report about the opening in Morocco of the first power plant operating exclusively on solar energy.
It would seem that it is a blessed, prosperous North African kingdom, but the authorities there, too, are trying to get rid of the import of traditional energy sources - oil and gas. Very wise and far-sighted.
The British are now engaged in an interesting project. They are building the world's first series of lagoon power plants. Their principle of operation is based on the use of the energy of sea tides.
Let me remind you that our country in the Soviet era actively developed this direction of energy. Since 1968, the experimental Kislogubskaya TPP has been operating on the coast of the Barents Sea. At the same time, projects were developed for more powerful tidal power plants, including two on the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk.
Unfortunately, they were never implemented. But I do not see any reasons preventing the implementation of these and other projects today. It would be the political will of the country's leadership to declare the abolition of the monopoly on our energy security, so that the Russians would be provided with energy resources to everyone who is capable and willing.
In fact, the creation of alternative energy systems to the existing ones is a good, real, profitable business. This is not a "manilovism" with the construction of a world-class ski super-resort in Magadan or an embankment in Nagaev Bay at a cost of 8 billion rubles, which will never pay off, and therefore, none of the investors will be interested.
- Why, then, none of the Magadan businessmen is trying to master this economic niche?
- You shouldn't think so. If there is demand, there will certainly be supply, and the demand today is dictated by reality itself.
Many entrepreneurs are concerned about autonomous power supply, including: we are considering various options, consult with specialists, carry out calculations, observe an experiment of power engineers in Yakutia, where combined power plants using wind generators and solar cells are tested.
There is an idea to use these or similar installations for power supply of production facilities of our companies in Evensk, Yamsk, Ust-Yan. There will be surpluses - we will share them with the population.
- If allowed.
- If allowed ... When will this happen? Probably not soon, but we believe in the triumph of common sense.
Summarizing our conversation. To rectify the situation in the Magadan region at the moment, the following steps are necessary: to reduce within reasonable limits the organizational and structural superstructures of the regional energy complex and to exclude the inappropriate costs of power engineers from the tariff.
Further, planned, systematic work should be carried out in cooperation with the federal center to reduce the cost of energy resources to a level acceptable for business and not burdensome for northerners. Only under this condition will the country retain its northeastern borders.