CYPRUS faces power blackouts in a matter of days as Electricity Authority employees ratchet up their dispute with the government over natural gas storage plans.
The warning came from a spokesman for their trade unions told the Cyprus Weekly yesterday.
“The moves being taken to avert this are so weak that it would be utopian to expect anything will come out of them,” Andreas Panorkos said.
He added, however, that they felt obliged to exhaust every possible means of reaching agreement before going ahead with the union decision.
Asked if the measures would be similar to those taken last June when they were hardly noticed, Panorkos hinted that they would be more strongly felt this time.
“We won’t just lose our wages as we did last time,” he said suggesting that they might walk out.
In June the employees manning the electricity switches and their union leaders stayed at the controls to make sure the power was cut in selected areas and at certain hours.
Replying to another question if the measures to be announced might affect the Christmas season, Panorkos categorically ruled out such likelihood, indicating that the power cuts would take place in November.
“It is a matter of days,” he said.
“We know how serious this is and we would never interfere with holidays or other sensitive periods.”
The EAC employees have been in dispute with Commerce and Industry Minister Antonis Michaelides since last June when he initiated a Council of Ministers decision to use a five-year interim offshore terminal for bringing natural gas to Cyprus.
The employees, who have the support of the EAC Board fear such an arrangement would become permanent and leave the authority out in the cold.
They insist on a land terminal as originally planned, coupled with declaring Cyprus an emerging market, which would give EAC the monopoly in natural gas.
In a latest confrontation, the Minister asked the EAC Board, in writing, either to fall in line with government policy or to resign.
The Board, headed by Chairman Charilaos Stavrakis, instead of replying to the Minister sought a meeting with President Papadopoulos on 25 October.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the Board maintained a passive attitude towards the government decision to invite tenders for an interim offshore terminal.
It stuck to the view that it was unlikely for an investor to stake his capital in a temporary project for an offshore terminal. They also called on the government to assign the project for a land terminal to EAC, set up a state agency for natural gas supply and declare Cyprus an emerging market.
Panorkos said the employees were deeply dissatisfied with this development and had no other alternative but to activate their decisions for industrial action.
“The EAC Board has been neutralised. We disagree with its view that no investor is so crazy as to stake his money in a temporary offshore investment, because we believe that somebody will come along and then find legal excuses to stay for ever,” the unionist said.
He added: “Yes, some crazy investor will come along and when this happens, the game for EAC will have been lost, with dire consequences for the public.”
The natural gas issue has been caught up in the campaign for the next presidential elections, with right-wing Disy opposition leader Nicos Anastassiades making public accusations about the “scandal of the century.”
He claims that influential state officials worked behind the scenes to secure the necessary permits for a specific foreign company and its Cypriot affiliates to build an offshore gas terminal.
In this Anastassiades also implicated the former law office of President Papadopoulos.
Former ruling partner communist Akel, whose General Secretary Demetris Christofias is running for president, backed Disy accusations.
The Government hit back by calling the accusations the “calumny of the century,” while former Commerce and Industry Minister George Lillikas has sued Anastassiades for £1m in defamation.
The issue has been compounded by statements in parliamentary committee debates that ‘Golar Energy’, a local company under former Disy Minister Frixos Savvides, has already obtained a licence for an offshore power station running on natural gas.
The Energy Regulatory Authority explained that ‘Golar’ has not yet been granted a licence to import, store and liquefy natural gas for its electricity production purposes.
Panorkos said yesterday that the ‘Golar’ case intensified their concerns. “It would mean that we would have to buy natural gas from our electricity supply competitors,” he noted.