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“More air defence systems is the most effective means of supporting our power system”

Interview with the Deputy Minister of Energy of Ukraine Mykola Kolisnyk. Interviewer: Kateryna Pryshchepa.

April 15, 2024 - Kateryna Pryshchepa Mykola Kolisnyk - Interviews

Russia has targeted civilian energy infrastructure in Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale invasion two years ago. Here is a scene from Kyiv in October 2022. Photo: wikimedia.org

On March 22nd, Russia launched the largest attack on Ukrainian energy since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, targeting various energy facilities. Heat and hydro generation, substations, power lines and natural gas storage facilities throughout the country were all attacked. Currently, the assault on the energy system continues. According to expert estimations, Ukraine has lost at least 50 per cent of its power generation capacity as a result of the recent Russian air strikes. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has been without a regular electricity supply for several weeks. There have also been power outages in Odesa and in areas of several regions close to the front line. In an interview with New Eastern Europe, which took place on March 28th in Warsaw, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Energy Mykola Kolisnyk spoke about the ways to overcome the consequences of the shelling and what can be done to ensure the operation of Ukraine’s energy system.


KATERYNA PRYSHCHEPA: At the end of March, Russia began strikes which many expected in the middle of winter at the peak of the cold weather. Is there any possible explanation as to why the shelling of energy infrastructure took place now and not two months ago?

MYKOLA KOLISNYK: First of all, the shelling of the energy infrastructure primarily harms civilians who, due to the lack of energy supply, cannot meet their domestic needs. In fact, these are crimes against humanity. The purpose of such shelling is a complete blackout and terror to create a humanitarian catastrophe.

Of all Ukrainian cities, the air strikes’ impact was felt most strongly in Kharkiv, where normal power supply has not yet been restored.

The attacks on energy facilities in recent days have been massive and targeted facilities across Ukraine. Both power plants and energy distribution substations were attacked. Towns and cities closest to the front line always suffer the most damage. Today, about 400 settlements in Ukraine do not have electricity supplies. Continuing fighting in those areas makes the restoration of the power supply there impossible. Even when we are restoring it, another round of shelling hits and the supply is disrupted again.

The latest attack also hit major cities like Kharkiv and Odesa. Kharkiv suffered the most as it is very close to the border. The recent attacks hit Kharkiv’s thermal power plant TEC5 (which supplies Kharkiv with electricity and provides central heating in the city) and the Zmiivska TPP. Several electrical substations were also hit, and thus the city’s power supply system was disrupted. But the attacks also targeted power plants in the central and western parts of Ukraine.

Given the wartime conditions, what needs to be done in Kharkiv to ensure that the city has power supply?

The challenge of ensuring the energy supply in Kharkiv should be divided into two categories. First, there are rapid response actions to overcome the crisis of shortages in power generation capacity. These are the issues that need to be addressed immediately, in particular by enacting temporary power supply schemes. The second category is that of long-term strategic planning and rebuilding the energy sector in the regions affected by the shelling. Here, the answer is decentralized energy combined with wider energy sources in the overall mix. But the key conceptual decision needed is to install a sufficient number of air defence systems to protect the population and the facilities that ensure the vital activities of the population.

After all, the key issue in the long term is the cost of one megawatt of electricity for the household and industrial consumer, to ensure that electricity is affordable. Large-scale generation ensures a lower cost. Nevertheless, the construction of distributed generation capacities, in particular, using climate-neutral technologies, using solar and wind energy and nuclear as a base load, is necessary. In combination with peak balancing generation capacity, gas-fired generation and energy batteries (BESS) can also be a tool, as gas is a transitional fuel according to EU plans for 2050 and energy storage system (BESS) technologies are part of development trends. So the answer to the question is to build low-capacity generation facilities alongside the development of microgrids to reduce the distance from generation to consumer. In addition, it is necessary to provide for the possibility of self-powering critical infrastructure facilities, such as hospitals and boiler houses.

Does Ukraine have enough sunlight in winter for such panels to meet the needs of such a critical facility?

Of course, there are several temperature zones in Ukraine. But today, the list of climate-neutral technologies is quite extensive. It includes batteries as energy storages (BESS), solar panels and wind turbines, as well as geothermal energy. This allows each region to choose the technology that meets local conditions.

However, as of now, Kharkiv’s electricity needs will be met by supplies from other regions of Ukraine. What are the risks of damage to the power supply lines as a result of further shelling? How high is the risk that Kharkiv will be left without electricity?

This is a matter of responsible consumption, distributing the load on the grid, and the ability to temporarily increase supplies from neighbouring systems. The risk of continued attacks on energy facilities remains high. Our task is to protect them and other facilities. The power companies, the State Agency for the Restoration and Development of Infrastructure of Ukraine, and the Ministry of Energy are actively taking measures to protect the facilities as much as possible.

At the initiative of the Minister of Energy of Ukraine German Galushchenko and European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson, the Energy Support Fund of Ukraine was established. It actively cooperates with European partners to provide technical assistance, including the equipment needed to replace what was damaged by air strikes. This is an effective mechanism that allows companies to obtain the necessary equipment and parts to quickly restore damaged facilities.

How is the cooperation with private companies organized? DTEK has stated that as a result of the shelling in recent days, they have lost 80 per cent of their power generating capacity. The company’s management say that they have already used up the stocks of equipment they had at the beginning of winter. Now they need new turbines and transformers.

The Energy Support Fund provides support to all market participants in response to their verified requests. Where there is a real need to restore equipment damaged by shelling, the fund provides an opportunity to receive technical assistance. Upon receipt of a request, European partners purchase the equipment or, if such equipment is available in reserve, provide it on an ad hoc basis.

The fund has already delivered hundreds of millions of euros worth of equipment. The Ukrainian side collects information about needs, and the Energy Community, together with USAID, makes purchases and transfers the equipment to the fund. The fund transfers it to the energy companies. This instrument was initiated by the minister of energy, German Galushchenko, and has proven to be effective.

Importantly, this mechanism allows EU manufacturers and suppliers to provide equipment with funds from their governments allocated to support Ukraine.

The financial estimate of losses in the power system as a result of shelling over the past two years is 11 billion US dollars. This amount does not include losses due to the occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The estimates will be revised in connection with the latest shelling. The sums in question will be subject to recovery from the aggressor country.

On March 22nd a Russian air strike damaged the Dnieper hydroelectric station, which is known as DniproHES, and the dam of the Dnieper reservoir. DniproHES and other plants in the Dnieper cascade were designed to ensure the stability of the power system during periods of high electricity consumption. How will the power grid compensate for its absence? What is the prognosis regarding the restoration of DniproHES?

The main thing is that today the energy supply system in Ukraine is working, and it is possible to import electricity from abroad on commercial bases. But now we need to make final calculations of financial losses and assess the cumulative impact of the shelling on Ukraine’s energy system.

An important step in rapid recovery is the example of Lithuania, which, following negotiations between our energy ministry and its Lithuanian colleagues, offered to transfer equipment from a decommissioned power plant. There are such power plants all over Europe, so we will be happy if other EU governments consider such a mechanism.

Can imports of electricity from abroad compensate for the loss of such balancing capacities as DniproHES?

Thanks to the integration of Ukraine’s power system into the European ENTSO-E system, Ukraine’s electricity shortage is partially covered by commercial imports from abroad. During our discussions in Poland today, we reaffirmed our commitment to energy grid inter-connectors on a commercial basis that will help companies in Ukraine to purchase electricity.

Air strikes on the Dnieper hydroelectric station led to another power outage at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Since the plant is not generating electricity now, its safety depends on external power supply. How damaging are these interruptions?

Zaporizhzhia NPP must be immediately returned to Ukrainian control, as the Russians have repeatedly threatened the plant’s power supply required to fulfil the needs of the facility. The ZNPP has been operating and can only operate stably as part of Ukraine’s energy system. The present actions of the Russian Federation endanger the populations of all countries in the region. Unfortunately, the interruption of the power supply line to the ZNPP occurs quite regularly, which indicates a disregard for nuclear safety risks. This demonstrates, among other things, the incompetence of the occupiers. The IAEA resolution clearly defined the need for the immediate return of the ZNPP to Ukrainian control.

I am confident that only full sanctions on Rosatom and its subsidiaries will stop propaganda and technological expansion, as well as the sale of fuel, because Russia uses energy as a weapon for hybrid influence. 

Are additional sanctions against Rosatom now possible?

They are critically necessary and realistic. Russia uses nuclear energy as an element of hybrid warfare. The spread of fuel rod technology (Russian nuclear fuel technology) in the world is an instrument of such hybrid influence, which will then turn into blackmail. Sanctions are the proper tool for the civilized world to prevent this.

We can assume that attacks on energy will continue. What steps should be taken now to protect the electricity system from collapse and prepare for the next winter?

There have been attacks before, but they were concentrated on the front line. We look to previous heating seasons and prioritize our preparation plans in relation to these experiences. This includes both physical and passive protection of facilities and an increase in air defence to cover facilities, as well as the replenishment of equipment reserves for quick repairs.

Could you explain what passive defence is? Is it the construction of additional physical structures?

This is the fortification of energy facilities – building physical protections to minimize the consequences of attacks.

So we’re talking about building physical structures around power plants that would take the hit?

Yes.

Were the power plants that were hit by the latest attacks destroyed because they lacked proper fortifications, or were the attacks so powerful that fortifications alone are not enough to protect them?

Unfortunately, the attacks severely damaged large facilities located close to the border. The facilities there are at a higher risk due to their proximity to Russia.

In addition to the power supply system, the recent air strikes targeted natural gas storage facilities in western Ukraine. Could you comment on that?

Unfortunately, underground gas storage facilities were indeed one of the targets during the last attacks. The Russian Federation’s public media even published information indicating the number of wells that were hit by the strike. This means that we know that the enemy deliberately targeted the storage facilities. Ukraine’s gas transmission system, as well as underground gas storage facilities, is fully integrated into the European gas transmission system. Ukrainian storage facilities store gas for European companies. Therefore, it was primarily a blow to European energy security. Of course, we were preparing for such risks. We also conducted training sessions on prevention and disposal in various scenarios and worked out plans for responding to such situations. However, the shelling has once again underlined that the enemy has no limits and is ready to go to great lengths.

Considering that gas storage facilities are underground and consist of a significant number of aboveground and underground facilities located quite far apart, the enemy’s only deliberate goal was to somehow leave the already closed doors of the European gas market behind.

One of the motives for these attacks was probably to scare European traders about the impossibility of living without Russian gas and to prevent the early pumping of gas from independent suppliers for the next off-season.

Importantly, Ukraine at present meets its natural gas needs through domestic production. Therefore, Ukraine does not need gas transit to fulfil its own needs. However, several European countries, such as Slovakia, Austria and Hungary still consume Russian gas by pipeline transit. Given the known risks, they should and can prepare for the new heating season to limit them.

Is Ukraine considering the risk that after the Russian gas transit contract expires at the end of 2024, the entire Ukrainian gas transmission system will become a target for intensive Russian attacks?

Ukraine’s gas transmission system is very extensive and most parts are underground. The entire system includes 33,000 kilometres of pipelines and more than 3,000 technical facilities, all with different entry and exit mechanisms. Is there a risk of air strikes? We cannot predict the madman’s actions just because he is a madman. As we can observe, the attack on the gas transmission system has already taken place, at a time when transit through Ukraine to EU countries is still ongoing under existing contracts. Our task is to protect and prevent such attacks, in particular through fortification and the installation of air defence.

Could you explain to a lay person what are the consequences of a missile hitting a natural gas storage facility?

Gas in underground storage facilities lies at a depth of 1,500 to 3,000 metres. Due to this, it is unrealistic to disrupt or destroy the gas supply or cause it to leak following the effects of a missile. A missile hit only causes the ground infrastructure to catch fire. After the fire is contained and extinguished, the ground infrastructure is restored. It is impossible to cause irreversible damage by shelling gas storage facilities.

Did the damage to the equipment at the well make it impossible to use it?

Thanks to the professionalism of our gas and power engineers and the availability of their own repair teams, the consequences of the shelling have already been localized. They are now being compensated by the work of other machines and other wells.

Can you tell us what issues have been discussed during the bilateral Ukrainian-Polish consultations today. As far as I understand, the Polish side is interested in Ukrainian fuel suppliers storing their reserve stocks in Poland. How is this possible?

At the end of last year, the parliament of Ukraine adopted the law on minimum stocks of crude oil and/or petroleum products, which obliges market players to establish and maintain fuel reserves consisting of three per cent of their turnover for the first year. These legal provisions come into force on December 24th 2024. According to the law, 50 per cent of these reserves must be stored in Ukraine, and the remaining 50 per cent can be stored in neighbouring countries – Poland, Slovakia and Romania. Companies in these countries watching this as a commercial opportunity in providing storage services might decide to develop more infrastructure at the border between Poland and Ukraine that will help with logistics. Since fuel is imported to Ukraine, it is logical that part of the stock can be stored in the original countries.

Unfortunately, there are difficulties in relations with Poland at the moment. Imports from Poland have been hampered due to several months of border blockades. Fuel importers in Ukraine are switching to other suppliers and looking for other supply routes. Therefore, as a state, we are raising the issue of developing infrastructure projects to shift fuel imports, from road to pipeline or rail transport. Infrastructure development is also important for implementing the provisions of the law on minimum stocks of crude oil and/or petroleum products. The law complies with EU Directive 2009/119 and aims to create a safe model for the fuel market all the way from the place of import and production to consumption. This is best seen in the integrated system of the national markets of the European Union, as an isolated market cannot be balanced.

Government officials in Poland and people speaking on behalf of the farmers blocking the border with Ukraine say that the blockade has not affected the supply of critical goods to Ukraine.

The issue of unblocking the border is now the subject of bilateral consultations involving governments and business associations on both sides. We can only say that the blockade is causing damage not only to Ukraine but also to Poland.

Petrol trucks carrying fuel to Ukraine stand in long queues at the Polish-Ukrainian border. Fuel importers have been working on diverting the imports to rail, but it is not possible to do this fully. For example, fuel from Lithuania is traditionally transported by road, and the blockade has almost stopped deliveries. Therefore, Ukrainian traders have increased imports from Romania and are considering the Balkans and even the Andean region to compensate for the decline in imports from Poland.

The year 2022 taught the Ukrainian fuel business to be very flexible, so in this situation, traders quickly began to switch to other markets, thanks to which we do not observe a critical shortage of fuel in Ukraine. However, we are seeing a strong drop in trade with Poland and this includes logistics services, that is the shipment and sale of the resource itself, which is not a small part of Poland’s budget.

What other issues were discussed during the bilateral Polish-Ukrainian consultations?

The new Polish government has declared its readiness to develop a joint regional energy balance and projects of common interest with Ukraine. The energy sector of Ukraine has fully implemented EU market rules and standards, with a third energy package making sure that more than 200 EU traders can systematically use Ukrainian facilities and trade in common markets.

We see the possibilities for cooperation. Over the past year, the Polish natural gas market has been the most profitable for Ukraine. Poland has made several important investments in recent years, including the Baltic Pipe, the gas inter-connector with Lithuania, and investments in the gas fields in Norway. There are also plans to build a new stage of the LNG terminal in Gdansk. All of this leads to an increase of gas supplies to Poland, while the country does not have sufficient natural gas storage facilities. And Ukraine has 30 billion cubic metres of storage capacity, 25 billion of which are located in the west of the country. These storage facilities are a reliable service provider, and more than 200 European companies use them. As a result, it is logical to develop Polish-Ukrainian cooperation in the gas sector.

On April 11th a Russian air strike destroyed the Trypillia power plant in Kyiv oblast. The plant was the biggest electricity generating facility for the Kyiv, Zhytomyr and Cherkasy oblasts. Centrenergo, the company operating the plant, announced that together with previous strikes, the strike latest one had destroyed 100 per cent of its generating capacity.

Mykola Kolisnyk is the deputy minister of energy of Ukraine.

Kateryna Pryshchepa is a Ukrainian journalist and a contributing editor with New Eastern Europe.


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