Greece in power struggle

Tourist haven: Greece

Steve Marshall News Wires 

08 June 2012 14:55 GMT

Tourists visiting Greece this summer may find dining by candlelight to be an obligatory part of their vacation as the cash-strapped country struggles to pay its energy bills.

The Mediterranean hotspot’s major gas supplier Gazprom is monitoring the situation as Greek energy companies are reported to be seeking emergency bank loans to pay for fuel imports to avert power cuts that could disrupt the vital tourism season.

A source at the Russian gas monopoly told Reuters on Friday that Greece has so far managed to pay for gas deliveries and expects to be paid for May supplies by the end of this month.

However, Greece’s state-owned gas distributor DEPA is now seeking loans from domestic banks to pay for about €120 million ($150 million) of gas and electricity imports as it faces a 22 June deadline to settle obligations to Gazprom, which supplies about 80% of the country’s gas needs via pipeline.

The cash crunch in the country’s energy system reportedly stems from a €350 million hole in the finances of state-owned power grid operator LAGHE, from which privately-run utilities are reimbursed, as shrinking revenues from lower demand have failed to match subsidies paid to renewable energy producers.

The looming energy crisis has further compounded the country’s severe debt difficulties with a general election approaching on 17 June, as its continued membership of the eurozone hangs in the balance.

Amid the economic gloom, Greeks may be seeking some solace in the progression – or otherwise – of their national football team in the Euro 2012 championship, with Greece set to kick off the tournament in the opening match against Poland on Friday.

However, the possibility of power outages may prove doubly frustrating, possibly cutting off televised coverage of the games if Greece advances beyond the group stage.

Gazprom has after all previously not hesitated to hit the ‘power off’ switch in the event of non-payment by customers, as with Ukraine a few years ago.

And for both visitors and disillusioned inhabitants departing Greece this summer, perhaps the best advice is: last one out, remember to turn off the lights. Or not, as the case may be.