Ukraine says 500 settlements without power as energy consumption hits record

KYIV (Reuters) -Ukrainian energy consumption hovered near record highs on Friday, increasing strains on the fragile power sector as nearly 500 settlements faced blackouts due to Russian shelling, air strikes and bad weather, officials said.

Ukraine, an exporter of electricity before Russia’s invasion in February 2022, has been forced to turn to emergency power imports from neighbouring Romania and Poland this week to meet demand, grid operator Ukrenergo said.

“The power system remains in a difficult situation. At the moment, there is no free capacity at power plants.”

The energy system is entering a second winter at war in a much shakier condition after months of Russian missile and drone attacks pounded critical infrastructure last winter.

Those strikes plunged cities into darkness and forced people to go for long periods without water or heating in the bitter cold. Though the power system is now weakened, Ukrainians hope better air defences provided by the West will help them prevail.

Ukrenergo urged residents to economise on the use of electricity in the face of continued Russian attacks almost two years into Moscow’s invasion in which it has occupied swathes of the east and south, about a fifth of the country.

“This morning Ukrenergo again recorded a high level of consumption, which is almost equal to yesterday’s record,” the grid operator said in a statement, adding that consumption was at its highest levels so far this heating season.

Consumption had risen 4% on Thursday compared with the day before, it said.

The Kyiv government said in a statement that 492 settlements across Ukraine were without electricity due to bad weather, shelling, strikes and combat actions.

Russia has so far kept up its strikes on the energy system this winter, sending dozens of drones on an almost nightly basis to hit power-generating facilities and distribution networks across the country.

Ukrenergo said a thermal power plant in the east had again and again been damaged by systematic and prolonged shelling.

Later on Friday, the energy ministry said a total of three power units did not work at the plant in a frontline region, which affected the power system.

It added that during the day the facility came under shelling once again, with new damage to equipment registered.

Also, a power facility in another region had been shut down for emergency repairs, it said. Dense cloud cover over the country means that solar power plants cannot work.

(Reporting by Olena Harmash; editing by Tom Balmforth and Mark Heinrich)