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Energy War: Lack Of Coal May Plunge Ukraine Into Darkness This Winter

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Nina Chestney and Barbara Lewis, Reuters

A shortage of coal, rather than gas, is likely to plunge Ukraine into freezing darkness this winter as conflict in its east seals off supplies that used to make it self sufficient. Kiev has said any hopes it had of Russian coal coming to the rescue were dashed when Moscow suspended exports.

Ukraine was self-sufficient in coal, producing more than 60 million tonnes last year, but since June separatist fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions has halted production from 66 coal mines.

Ukraine has declared a state of emergency in its electricity market and blackouts are imminent unless it can import coal, analysts and industry officials say.

“We have no energy reserves now, everything works on maximum and every technical problem can lead to sharp power cuts,” said Andrey Favorov, managing director of energy investment company Energy Resources of Ukraine.

“The only way to avoid freezing this winter is to negotiate, to pull out politics: we need to look at buying coal from reliable traders, import coal from South Africa, Australia, Vietnam, other countries.”

While EU officials have spent months brokering a deal to try to avert a supply crisis following Russia’s cut-off of gas to Kiev in June, fighting in east Ukraine has shut down mines and rail links used for transporting coal to power plants.

Ukraine was self-sufficient in coal, producing more than 60 million tonnes last year, but since June separatist fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions has halted production from 66 coal mines, leaving only 60 running, European coal association Euracoal said.

It is estimated that Ukraine needs 1 to 2 million tonnes of imported coal a month between now and April.

Hydroelectric and nuclear power plants are running flat out to help cover the shortfall but the country’s old electricity grid and infrastructure to do not guarantee reliable supply.

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