Power Outage in Moscow

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An explosion of some sort has caused a major blackout throughout Moscow and neighboring areas:

Prosecutors in Russia have opened a criminal case against the country's power monopoly after a major blackout in the capital, Moscow, on Wednesday.

Public transport ground to a halt, Moscow's main stock exchange stopped trading and water supplies were hit.

The electricity outage was caused by a fire and explosion at a substation, the energy minister told parliament.

The first thing the government of Russia has called for is the ouster of the current Chairman. I have no idea what Chairman Chubais' various merits or problems are; but perhaps the government should be reminded that it currently holds the controlling share of UES (the "power monopoly" mentioned in the first sentence of the article). At the time of the writing of this brief from the EIA, that stake stood at 52%, with Gazprom controlling 10%. Of course, Gazprom itself is soon to be effectively a state asset after the recent cash buyback plan put into place by the Kremlin.

No matter what the cause of the explosion (and I am sorry it happened on such a hot day; there are bound to be health issues arising from the power loss for air conditioning), the massive size of the blackout is in some large measure due to poor infrastructure. That is to say, an outdated, problematic grid almost certainly contributed to the scale of the problem. Who, then, was responsible for the grid?

UES, which is 52% owned by the Russian government (Gazprom now has a 10% stake) , controls most of the transmission and distribution in Russia. UES owns 96% of the transmission and distribution system, the central dispatch unit, and the federal wholesale electricity market (FOREM). The grid comprises almost 2 million miles of power lines, 93,000 miles of which are high-voltage cables over 220 kilovolts (Kv). [From the EIA brief linked to above.]

For reference, here is the EIA diagram of the Russian Electricity Sector Structure:


Click for a larger version

This places the transmission process under a heavy amount of regulation from a centralized source, and put it in position unable to respond to growth in demand and use. When a problem arose, massive parts of the grid failed. Does any of this sound familiar at all? (Better bet: Click here and just start reading.)

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An extended quote from the article should make the political context clear:

Calls are growing for the resignation of Anatoly Chubais, a former liberal politician who heads the monopoly....

[Chubais] has been one of the few public figures to condemn the prosecution of tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Many of his political associates are in open opposition to Mr Putin.

Mr Chubais survived an assassination attempt in March, which some blamed on his recent plans to reform the energy sector.

Of course, Putin has Chubias (among others) to thank for early important positions:

A former Communist turned "liberal," Chubias doubtless had something to do with the rise of Vladimir Putin. Both men were from St. Petersburg, both knew each other in the "early days" of glasnost and perestroika; and in 1996 it was Chubias who summoned Putin from St. Petersburg to work in Moscow at a time when Chubias ran the former Communist Party Central Committee complex on Old Square, which had been transformed into the super-secretive and innocuously named "Presidential Administration" under then President Boris Yeltsin. According to Russian expert Paul Klebnikov, the Presidential Administration is "so secretive that it was known to most [Russian] citizens by rumor only."


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This page contains a single entry by published on May 25, 2005 4:58 PM.

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