By Kyriacos Kiliaris
Cyprus is at risk of remaining the only energy-isolated EU member without any electricity interconnections, as plans to link the grid in the Turkish occupied north to Turkey gather pace, while Athens delays endorsing a major powerline project to connect the island with Israel and mainland Europe through Greece.
The issue is gaining traction with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu making clear earlier last week that Ankara will go ahead with plans to interconnect the system in the north.
During his latest visit to the occupied north, Cavusoglu told reporters that Turkey is going ahead with additional studies to bring electricity to “North Cyprus”.
Plans of the two sides to proceed with constructing the interconnector were confirmed by Turkish Cypriot officials.
In an interview with the Turkish edition of Russia's Sputnik News Agency, Turkish Cypriot “Energy Minister” Hasan Tacoy said that the project is gaining speed as more studies are being prepared.
He said the project is expected to bring prices down by 30-40% for Turkish Cypriot consumers.
Tacoy said this development will provide a strategic advantage to Turkey as it is concerned over the EU’s stance towards it.
In an article in Turkish daily Yeni Safak, Turkish energy specialist Dr Gurkan Kumbaroglu, while noting that Turkey has the ability to end Europe’s dependence on Russia for energy, said it can help bring electricity prices down in Europe and the Middle East.
Kumbaroglu said that exporting electricity to the north of the island will reduce prices by around a third.
The possibility of Cyprus energy security being dependent on a “troublemaking neighbour”, as government and EU officials often call Turkey, raises more concerns over supply.
The EuroAsia Interconnector – a project conceived soon after a deadly munitions blast in Mari in 2011 decimated the island’s main power station – is being delayed by the Greek counterparts of the project who are dragging their feet on a decision to endorse the project which enjoys the full support and financing of the EU.
Since 2013, the Israel-Cyprus-Crete-Attica subsea cable has been included among the leading European projects of common interest (PCIs), with the blessing of past Greek governments and regulators, and enjoys funding from the Commission’s Connecting Europe Facility, making it eligible to low-cost financing from the European Investment Bank.
The Greek side, through the Chinese-controlled Independent Power Transmission Operator (ADMIE), is pushing for a separate new ‘national’ cable for the Crete-Attica connection, the key section that would link Cyprus with Greece, and from there to the rest of Europe.
ADMIE’s main argument is that Crete is in dire need of an electrical connection by 2020, as the Greek island’s old diesel-powered factories have to be shut down by the end of the year if Greece is to comply with EU emission orders.
However, the deadline for EuroAsia has been set at 2022, while the ADMIE ‘national’ cable will not be ready for 18 months after that.
Brussels unequivocally favours the EuroAsia Interconnector with an approved timetable that satisfied the need for priority in the implementation of the Crete-Attica section.
Nicosia-based EuroAsia insists that certain specifications must be met to ensure universality throughout the cable system regarding the technical compatibility of the near 1,500km high voltage DC cable and between the conversion stations at each landing point.
It was hoped that a change of government in Greece in July would see a shift in Athens’ stance, with the new Energy Minister not yet signing off on the approval of the next official list of PCIs.
Cyprus Energy and Trade Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis recently declared that beyond gas liquefication plants and pipelines, Cyprus is involved in several PCIs — key infrastructure projects that link the energy systems of EU countries — to increase the security of supply, unlock the potential of renewable energies, and tap into the electricity-generating potential of the recently discovered gas reserves.
“Among the other benefits of lifting Cyprus’ energy isolation, it will also enable us to stabilise the grid and allow us to penetrate renewables even further,” said Lakkotrypis in a recent interview with the SouthEUSummit portal.
According to Greek daily Kathimerini, Lakkotrypis sent an urgent letter to his former Greek counterpart Giorgos Stathakis urging him to intervene so that the major regional project linking Israel with Cyprus and then with Crete and Attica can be implemented.
“I plead with you to examine the request by EuroAsia Interconnector for the signing of the form through which the Greek government gives its consent for the submission of the application so the opportunity existing at this moment is not missed and the electrical interconnection of our countries receives financing from Europe,” Lakkotrypis wrote.
He has received no response from the previous or current administrations on the matter.