Power outage in Tartu angers businesses

  • 2003-09-25
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - Several large businesses said they were planning to file claims against the state-owned Eesti Energia power company for financial losses caused by the power outage in Tartu on Sept. 18.
The driving force behind the claim option is Tartu Brewery, one of the largest beer and soft-drink producers in the country.
According to brewery officials, the brewery was not able to take orders from the retailers and lost the mash – or crushed grain and water – that had been prepared before the outage took place.
The company's total losses for the day amounted to 153,000 euros, reported the company, and lawyers will demand compensation from Eesti Energia.
A number of production facilities and other companies located in the western part of Estonia's second largest city (population – 100,000) also suffered from the power cut.
Tartu University's clinic and the police headquarters, for instance, had their electricity cut off for several hours.
A company that produces concrete panels had to stir 20 cubic meters of concrete by manual means that would have otherwise fossilized in the concrete mixer because of the power outage.
In addition, four radio stations went silent for several hours in Tartu, the Postimees daily reported.
According to Eesti Energia officials, on Sept. 18 one of the two switchgears of the Tartu power substation turned off due to a short circuit caused by fire when the section's power gear exploded.
The explosion was described as an "unexpected equipment failure" that could not be predicted by the regular maintenance, Eesti Energia announced.
The fire brigade had to shut off the second switchgear as well to put out the fire, and about 20 percent of electricity consumers in Tartu were cut off from power from 12:35 p.m.
Vitally important power consumers, such as the medical service institutions and the police, got their electricity back at about 2 p.m., while others had to wait until after 10 in the evening.
According to the regulations provided by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, the supervising authority of state-owned Eesti Energia, the company can leave its clients who have basic contracts without electricity for up to 24 hours in case of an accident. Customers willing to secure faster power restoration have to pay a double admission fee with Eesti Energia.
The power supply giant apologized for the incident and stated it will do its best to avoid such problems in the future. According to Riina Vandre, spokeswoman for the utility, it will take years before Estonia's power network will be stabilized.
"The existing power network that does not comply with contemporary requirements cannot be improved faster than in 15 years objectively," she said adding that Eesti Energia started major power network investments only in 1999.
In 2002 Eesti Energia spent about 1 billion kroons (64 million euros) on power network renovation.
Estonia's power network, built mainly in the 1960s, has outlived its service years, as most of the equipment has been used for a longer time than the optimal 20-year term.
In the early 1990s cash-strapped Eesti Energia did not keep up the required annual rate of network equipment renewal – or 2.5 percent – and modernized only about 1 percent of the equipment per year, according to Vandre.
She added that it is impossible to switch off the network for a year or two to fix everything at once, and very little can be done during the short maintenance breaks that are planned in advance.
"Eesti Energia will carry out a thorough analysis of the accident and will prepare a public report. We will also inspect our older substations to find out those that may cause major power outages and will change our investment program in accordance to the results," she said.
Eesti Energia recently received an annual competitiveness award from a local business association.