Greek largest power firm sees potential of cooperation with China

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-07-27 11:29

KOZANI, Greece — Greece's Power Public Corporation (PPC), the largest power utility in the country, is undergoing great changes as part of efforts to overcome the 7-year Greek debt crisis and plans the future seeking credible partners, PPC Chairman and CEO Manolis Panagiotakis told Xinhua in a recent interview.

The agreements PPC has sealed with major Chinese companies over the past year and bilateral collaboration so far indicate that the future for Sino-Greek cooperation in the energy sector is bright and Chinese firms can hold a key role in Greece's new strategic energy planning, Panagiotakis said.

Seven years into the debt crisis and bailout programs, PPC faced accumulating overdue bills and creditors' demands to open up the market to competition and sell assets.

By 2019 the state-controlled company will lose its monopoly status. Currently PPC has an almost 90 percent share of Greece's retail market which needs to be reduced by 40 percent under bailout commitments.

PPC will also lose 40 percent of its lignite capacity by selling mines and lignite powered plants.

In this context, Panagiotakis welcomes as a "positive development" the purchase of a 24-percent stake of power grid operator ADMIE by China's State Grid which was finalized this June following an international tender.

"In a few years, PPC will be entirely different.... Our target is to rebuild a company which will be operating in many fields, not only the production and sale of electricity," the official told Xinhua.

"In this framework, we are seeking partners to for joint ventures. Since such projects require capitals, but mainly advanced technology and knowhow that Chinese companies have, I believe there is great potential for bilateral cooperation," he said.

At the moment Panagiotakis and Greek Energy Ministry officials are finalizing the list of units that will go on sale with the European Commission's Directorate General for Competition.

Regardless of this procedure, the memorandum of understanding PPC signed with CMEC a few months ago to build a new coal-fired electricity producing plant in Florina in northern Greece will go ahead, he told Xinhua.

Xinhua reporters visited recently the area where beats the "energy heart" of Greece. Within a zone stretching about 100 kilometers between the cities of Florina and Kozani, some 500 kilometers north of Athens, are operating for several decades power plants that generate most of Greece's electricity. They are fed by nearby lignite mines.

Since Greece possesses rich lignite energy capacity, the "brown coal" has powered Greek economy for more than half a century. As the country gradually turns to other sources, its "energy heart" is also changing.

Aghios Dimitrios power station at the outskirts of Kozani is Greece's largest lignite- fired power plant. Its first unit was constructed in 1984 and the fifth in 1997, its director Panagiotis Tsanoulas and other PPC employees said while giving Xinhua a tour at the impressive premises and explaining the stages of operation.

Approximately 700 people work at the power plant and a further 1,000 at the nearby mine which supplies it with lignite via a conveyor belt 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The South Field lignite mine which is adjacent to Aghios Dimitrios processing plant is the largest in the Balkans. Gigantic excavators reaching up to 45 meters high are extracting the "brown coal" since 1983.

Lignite resources are still in abundance, but Greece faces pressure to reduce lignite fired production of electricity in the future, although investments have been made and measures are taken to keep below European standards dust and gas emissions in the area.

PPC's stance is that for the near future Greece needs to keep at least 27 percent of its electricity produced by lignite fired plants to ensure that its energy needs will be covered and the country will not be largely dependent on natural gas in cases of spikes in prices in the international market, Panagiotakis said.

PPC proposes carefully planned investments in lignite production, such as the Florina project, and joint ventures with investors in upgrading current units and other projects in Greece and the wider Balkans region.

During his two visits to China in 2016 and 2017 as part of the Greek government delegation led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Panagiotakis had contacts with 21 Chinese companies, visited state-of-the-art power plants and was impressed by the high level of technology used, he said.

The PPC chief is convinced that in Chinese enterprises Greece can find the credible partners she seeks. He is eager to discuss the idea of establishing a smart meters production unit in Greece with CMEC or cooperation in the electric cars sector and the transfer of electricity via underwater cable interconnections linking Crete to the mainland with State Grid, he told Xinhua.

The Greek official was also impressed by Shenhua's research center which is a pioneer in environment protection, as he noted. PPC will explore the prospect of cooperation in research programs.

"I believe that there are great prospects for collaboration," Panagiotakis said.

PPC has a strong brand name in the Balkans and can play a leading role in developments in the energy sector in the area in the future, he added.

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