Riga's heating causes heated discussions

  • 2000-12-14
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - So far this year 10 people have frozen to death in Riga. This number is expected to go up as temperatures drop, and in Parliament and at Riga City Council politicians are going at each others' throats in the run-up to the turmoil of city council election campaigns, using the central heating issue as a bat.

The latest stir in the ongoing Riga heating debate started earlier this month when Aigars Kimenis of the For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK faction suggested amendments to regulations on turning off the central heating system in the capital city.

Kimenis said he thinks Riga's inhabitants should have more say in where they get their heating from.

"My proposal is that alternative heating sources like gas, wood and electricity could be used," Kimenis said. "I think people should be able to choose."

Maija Rubina, who chairs the committee of communal and apartment issues at the city council, said Kimenis' suggestion suggests he obviously is out to appease his fellow party members in Parliament.

"This is only related to municipality election campaigning," Rubina said. "Riga's heating is an issue where information has been distorted in order for politicians to strengthen their positions in Parliament and at the city council. It's impossible for residents of Riga to receive correct information regarding the heating issue."

Rubina's protest has been submitted to Riga Mayor Andris Argalis and his deputy, Juris Ritins.

Riga City Council deputy chairman Olegs Batarevskis told LETA that Rubina's protest is unjustified, and that Riga's heating supply development concept is not a law but merely a program which can be changed.

There are currently two competing heating companies in Riga - Rigas Siltums and Latvijas Gaze. Kimenis' suggestion is that people should be able to choose between them even if they happen to be connected to Rigas Siltums' central heating system.

Kimenis said Rubina is convinced Riga only needs one monopoly heating company - Rigas Siltums.

"If there's a conflict between the owner of a house and Rigas Siltums and the heating is cut off, there should still be a chance for the people living in the house to have heating," Kimenis said.

The infrastructure of Riga's central heating system covers about 76 percent of the city's demand. When consumers disconnect from the central heating system, the same fixed costs are shared by the consumers who remain connected, whose bills therefore increase. "The competition between Rigas Siltums and Latvijas Gase is unfair because of this price distortion," Rubina said. "The cabinet of ministers' energy regulating body is responsible for this unfair competition. The energy regulating body does not give any discounts to Rigas Siltums, and the tariffs for individual consumers are very high."

Industries which consume vast amounts of natural gas pay 71.60 lats per 1,000 square meters while the price for household consumers is 59 lats per 1,000 square meters.

An ongoing trend in Riga is that those who can afford to disconnect from the central heating system do so and invest in an individual gas boiler, leaving those with lower income connected to the central heating system and facing higher heating costs.

During the period 1994 to 1996, Riga city offered its inhabitants the opportunity to disconnect from the system, which many did. Rigas Siltums was established in 1996 by consolidating a number of district heating authorities to take responsibility for Riga's heating supply.

"Since 1998, some 1,105 applications to be disconnected from the central heating system have been reviewed," Rubina said. "Out of these applications 744 have been approved."

Under Kimenis' amendments buildings which have never had central heating, such as newly-constructed buildings and houses receiving heating via another building would have the option of alternative heating.

"The only houses in Riga off the Rigas Siltums' heating grid are houses heated by wood," Kimenis said. "This is part of our discussions in Parliament as well."

Rubina said there are 549 buildings on the central heating system and of those, 233 are municipality buildings. "If Kimenis proposals go through, people may choose to be disconnected from Rigas Siltums, and that means some people could be without heating altogether," Rubina said." This is unacceptable since the city council is responsible for getting heat to the city's residents."