In 1990 Armenia produced less than 1 percent of its energy requirement, which was filled by imports from Russia (50 percent) and other republics of the Soviet Union. In the late Soviet era, Armenia had a share in the Joint Transcaucasian Power Grid, but that arrangement and short-term supply agreements with Azerbaijan ended with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The 1988 earthquake destroyed the largest nonnuclear thermoelectric plant; two remaining plants are located south of Erevan and near Razdan, northeast of Erevan.

Hydroelectric plants provide 30 percent of domestic electricity, but the output of the largest producer, the Razdan Hydroelectric Plant, was cut drastically because of its negative effect on the water level of its source, Lake Sevan. By early 1994, however, a fifth hydroelectric generating unit was under construction, with international funding, to help alleviate the energy shortage. Planners are also considering construction of two medium-sized hydroelectric stations on the Dzoraget and Debet rivers in the far north, or 300 to 450 small stations on lakes. The obstacle to such plans is the high cost of importing technology.

In the early 1990s, severe shortages of energy led to blackouts, periodic shutdowns of the subway system, inadequate heating of urban buildings, and the further decline of industry. Schools, institutes, and universities were closed through the winters of 1991-92 and 1992-93.

In the 1980s, Soviet planners had attempted to improve Armenia's power generation capacity by building the Armenian Atomic Power Station at Metsamor. However, that station's two reactors were shut down after the 1988 earthquake to avoid future earthquake damage that might cause an environmental catastrophe. The heat and power crisis caused by the Azerbaijani blockade instituted in 1991 caused the government to reconsider use of Metsamor, despite the station's location in earthquake-prone northern Armenia and the possibility of a terrorist attack that could release large amounts of radiation.

In 1993 Metsamor had an estimated capacity to provide 20 percent of Armenia's energy requirements. Plans were made for startup of one of the two reactors by 1995 after careful equipment testing and international technical assistance--with the provision that the plant would remain closed if alternative sources of power could relieve the acute shortage of the prior three years.

In 1993 the delivery of electric power to industrial consumers was cut to one-third of the 1992 level. Under continued blockade conditions, the winter of 1993-94 brought acute shortages of coal, heating oil, and kerosene to heat homes and city apartment buildings and to keep industries running. Significant deposits of high-quality coal have been identified in Armenia, with holdings estimated at 100 million tons. But exploitation would require massive deforestation, a consequence that is considered environmentally prohibitive. In September 1993, Turkmenistan agreed to deliver 8.5 million cubic meters of natural gas per day during the winter, as well as kerosene and diesel fuel in 1994. (Turkmenistan was already an important fuel supplier to postcommunist Armenia.) Although Georgia guaranteed full cooperation in maintaining gas delivery through its pipeline into Armenia, in 1993 explosions on the line interrupted the flow twelve times. Azerbaijani groups in Georgia were assumed to be responsible for the bombings.

Country Studies main page | Armenia Country Studies main page