(Adds German negotiator in Pristina)
By Fatos Bytyci and Maja Zuvela
PRISTINA/SARAJEVO, March 13 (Reuters) - Kosovo has found a short-term fix for a gap in Europe’s power grid which has slowed electric timers across much of the continent, but officials warned on Tuesday the problem may re-emerge unless a network row with Serbia is resolved for good.
European grid lobby ENTSO-E said last week the continental European network had been short of 113 gigawatt-hours of energy because Kosovo had taken more power than it produced while Serbia, which is in charge of balancing Kosovo’s grid, had failed to fill the gap between mid-January and March 7.
As a result, the European network’s frequency had deviated from its standard of 50 Hertz (Hz) to 49.996 Hz and some electric clocks, steered by the frequency of the power system rather than by a quartz crystal, have lost nearly six minutes.
“We have already returned 20 percent of the missing energy and that energy will have to be compensated by the end of this month,” a senior Kosovo energy official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
He said the government had allocated 1 million euros ($1.2 million) to buy electricity to compensate for the shortfall and avoid any similar problems in future.
But ENTSO-E, the association of European grid operators, said the country of 1.8 million people might need between 4.5 million and 5.6 million euros to compensate for the shortfall.
“If there is no more money then we will have the same situation again,” the Kosovo official warned.
Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008. Belgrade, which still refuses to recognise Kosovo, committed to normalise relations with Pristina, key to its progress towards European Union membership. But little progress has been made.
A spokeswoman for ENTSO-E said a deal must be reached and the energy put back into the system to restore the frequency.
“The outstanding point, as to avoid any repetition, is that several legal energy issues between Kosovo and Serbia have to be set. The discussions are ongoing and involve us from a technical side, but also of course the European Commission,” Susanne Nies said.
Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj met German mediator Klaus Toepfer on Tuesday to seek a solution to the energy dispute with Serbia.
“The Kosovo government will try to resolve the energy problem because this is hampering the economic development of the country,” Haradinaj said in a statement after the meeting.
Officials say the problem emerged after a Pristina court ruling in December to end a practice by which Kosovars living south of the River Ibar had been receiving higher bills to compensate for power consumption by Serbs in the north of the country, who do not recognise Kosovo institutions and refuse to pay the Kosovo grid operator.
Following the court decision, Kosovo’s energy regulator ordered its grid operator KOSTT to trim the tariff by 44 percent. “KOSTT did not have the legal and financial ability to assume the obligation to further cover the losses for power supply to the northern part,” it told Reuters.
Another senior energy official said. “We had two solutions: to cut the electricity to people, hospitals, water companies and trigger violent protests by Serbs, or sit down and watch. We decided to sit down and watch.”
Official figures show the uncollected debt now amounts to over 140 million euros.
Serbia’s grid operator, EMS, has obstructed KOSTT’s efforts to become a full-fledged ENTSO-E member though KOSTT says all requirements have been met.
Both countries in 2015 signed an agreement on operating their grids, but it has never been enacted. The two sides have conflicting claims about ownership of the power grid in Kosovo, built when it was part of Serbia.
KOSTT says the row cost it 9.6 million euros in 2017, as EMS continues to benefit from the allocation of capacity from Kosovo’s interconnectors with neighbouring countries. EMS declined to comment. ($1 = 0.8123 euros) (Writing by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Ivana Sekularac, Dale Hudson and Adrian Croft)