October 13, 2016 / 1:06 PM / 10 months ago

Ukraine sees no blackouts this winter despite low energy stocks

KIEV, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Coal will keep Ukraine's electricity system running throughout the winter and prevent electricity outages, the head of the state power company told Reuters on Thursday, even though stocks are low.

Ukraine used to depend heavily on Russian gas but has had to find other energy sources since relations deteriorated with Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Low stocks of coal and all-time low reserves of natural gas have stoked fears of an energy shortfall over the winter despite assurances from top officials.

Ukraine depends on thermal coal for more than 40 percent of its power needs. Nuclear energy makes up at least a half, while the rest comes from renewable sources.

"Our coal stocks are low, but not at a record low," Vsevolod Kovalchuk, acting chief director of Ukrenergo, said in his office in central Kiev.

"Ukrenergo is fully prepared for the winter. The power system of Ukraine is ready for the winter. The coal stocks in warehouses are sufficient, taking into account the dynamics of current supply," Kovalchuk said.

Ukrainian thermal power plants (TPP) have collected 1.76 million tonnes of coal for winter, 300,000 tonnes below the last year's level, he said.

Ukrainian's TPPs use two types of coal but authorities almost lost control of production of one of them in 2014 after a conflict in industrial eastern regions left most anthracite mines on territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

That caused widespread power cuts in the winter of 2014/15.

Since then power plants have established new supply chains from areas mostly outside the conflict zone, Kovalchuk said.

"There are no problems with coal production. There were problems with the delivery but now there are no such problems. Now the rate of supply of anthracite coal to plants is the highest possible - about 30,000 tonnes per day," Kovalchuk said.

He said during the winter Ukrainian TPPs needed to burn around 90,000 tonnes of coal per day, 60,000 tonnes of which is coal produced in Ukraine-controlled areas and 30,000 tonnes is supplied from separatist-held territory.

"We don't have any fears - we are not seriously looking at the probability of blackouts this winter," he added.

Ukraine's preparedness for winter was called into question this week when it emerged that no more than 14.8 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas had been collected in reserves - the lowest level ahead of winter since independence in 1991.

While the low gas stocks could deplete the heating system, Kovalchuk said the power grid would be unaffected because Ukraine has not produced electricity from natural gas since 2013. (Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Alessandra Prentice/Ruth Pitchford)

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