Row over heating projects boils over

  • 2001-10-18
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - The approach of winter in Latvia always sees an increase in the number of people trying, often unsuccessfully, to disconnect their homes from the state controlled heating grid.

Under the current energy law an entire residential block can decide to disconnect from the state-owned Rigas Siltums' heating grid, but not the owners of an individual apartment.

"In the past, single apartments have been disconnected on the orders of Riga City Council, but this is actually illegal," said Rigas Siltums spokesman Andris Sprogis.

A dissatisfied resident, Latvian-Canadian Peter Kiesners, voiced his discontent at the cost of disconnecting from the central heating grid and getting gas piped to a boiler in his flat instead. The ways to get things done in Riga are not always transparent and above board, he observed. "Two apartments in my house have already disconnected from the system, but how they did it I don't know. For the four apartments left it will be very expensive - for me alone it will cost 1,200 lats ($1,950)."

As well as reducing heating costs, residents often want to switch to their own gas boiler so that they may decide when to switch on the heat in autumn, rather than Rigas Siltums.

As of this year residents can at any time come together to ask for their heating to be turned on, said Sprogis. Already, 800 of the 7,500 buildings served by Rigas Siltums have heat, but most will simply wait until the temperature drops.

Under current rules the outdoor temperature has to be below 13 degrees Celsius for three consecutive days before the heat comes on, rather than the old level of 8 degrees Celsius.

In reality though things are not so straight forward. Residents of Riga's suburbs are sometimes forced to wait longer for heat as punishment for paying their bills late and in some houses lists are posted on walls so that everyone knows who owes what.

Struggling with old pipes and bad insulation Riga City Council is currently looking for more efficient ways to distribute heat.

One project launched in 1998, has just been completed. Around 100 people gathered for the inauguration of the first heating system to be renovated in a residential block in Riga - a block of 72 apartments in the Zemgale district.

The project was sponsored by Berlin City Council to the tune of 300,000 lats, while Riga City Council contributed 3,000 lats. The district's executive director, Janis Kositis, said rates in the block would go up but residents would at first be relieved of the increase by state subsidies.

Berlin City Council housing development spokesman, Peter Wollschläger, was very optimistic and said cooperation with the Latvian side had been a success.

"This is just the beginning," said Wollschläger. "We plan to carry out more such projects in Riga."