YEREVAN (Combined Sources)—Members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Youth Organization were arrested Wednesday when they were protesting Armenia’s utility regulatory body’s decision to raise energy prices by 16 percent.
The decision unanimously made by the five members of the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) also failed to satisfy Armenia’s Russian-owned power distribution network. The Electricity Networks of Armenia (ENA) operator has been seeking a more than 40 percent increase in the prices of its electricity delivered to households and corporate consumers, citing the need to end its massive losses, reported Azatutyun (RFE/RL).
The PSRC chairman, Robert Nazarian, said earlier this month that the daytime electricity price for households will rise from 42 drams to almost 49 drams (10 U.S. cents) per kilowatt/hour. The households will pay almost 39 drams per kilowatt/hour during night hours, he said, according to RFE/RL.
The demonstrators, who were demanding that prior to any utility price hike, an independent audit of the PSRC take place, were angered by the unanimous decision. Scuffles ensued as riot police stopped them from breaking into the building after the announcement of the PSRC’s decision. The arrested protesters were released later in the day.
The price hike will take effect on August 1.
During a parliamentary hearing on the matter last Friday, ARF Parliamentary Bloc member Artsvik Minassian urged an independent audit of the ENA’s finances to address any possible infractions in expenditure and to propose a comprehensive overview of the energy body, which he claimed was not transparent in its operation.
Minassian said that the body had been operating without proper accountability.
Speaking during parliamentary hearings last week, Nazarian acknowledged that the ENA management has failed to tackle fraud within its ranks and indulged in extravagant expenses such as lease of expensive cars and office space for senior company executives, reported RFE/RL.
Still, Nazarian insisted that the ENA, which is owned by Russia’s UES national electric utility, cannot stop incurring substantial losses with the existing electricity prices. He said higher tariffs are also need to enable the ENA to repay 106 billion drams ($225 million) in outstanding debts to power plants and commercial banks.
The ENA, meanwhile, criticized the price rises approved the regulators as not far-reaching enough. In a letter to the PSRC sent ahead of its latest meeting, the ENA’s Russian chief executive, Yevgeny Bibin, accused the commission of ignoring most of its “economically justified operational costs.”
Bibin warned that his company will not be able to meet the necessary “requirements for the quality and reliability of electricity supplies” if the PRSC refuses to accept its tariff application in full. Nazarian publicly condemned the warning as “blackmail.”
The daytime electricity price for households already went up by 27 percent in July 2013 because of the increased cost of Russian natural gas generating more than one-third of Armenia’s electricity. The PSRC raised it by another 10 percent in July 2014.