Grid Company Will Borrow $550M

The state-controlled Federal Grid Company, or FSK, will need to borrow as much as 20 billion rubles ($551 million) this year, Alexander Chistyakov, the company's deputy chief executive, said at the Russia Forum on Thursday.

The company is now discussing an issue of infrastructure bonds with the government, Chistyakov said, adding that the bonds would mature in no less than three years

The Energy Ministry said in December that the government would earmark 146 billion rubles to purchase infrastructure bonds and issue loans to state-controlled power companies, including the Federal Grid Company, RusHydro, Energy Systems of the East and the Interregional Distribution Grid Company.

Deputy Energy Minister Vyachaslav Sinyugin said Thursday, however, that the figure would have to be "corrected."

He did not elaborate, but he said the ministry would soon announce a mechanism by which the state would either purchase infrastructure bonds from electricity companies or guarantee them.

Electricity production has fallen as industrial production has been scaled back, and payment delays and nonpayments have plagued that balance sheets of power companies, for whom access to credit is already in short supply.

A long-planned switch to market-based rates aimed at guaranteeing return on investments in the grid network may also have to be delayed.

Several regions would have to delay the switch to regulated asset base pricing, or RAB, until 2010, as power consumption has fallen, Chistyakov said.

FSK has also seen problems with payment delinquency. Dagestan, a restive republic in the south of Russia, owes 1 billion rubles to FSK, Chistyakov said. "We can't turn the supplies there off for the security reasons," he said.

Other investors in the electricity sector were equally pessimistic at the conference Thursday.

"When we made our investment, Russia was a different country where the main focus was growth," said Mikhail Slobodin, president of Integrated Energy Systems, the country's biggest private power generator.

"Now, we are going to implement what would be a three-year cost-cutting program all in 2009," he said at the forum.

A government plan outlining the development of the electricity sector now must be changed, Slobodin said. The current plan is based on a forecast of 5.3 percent growth in annual power consumption to 2020.

Electricity consumption in Russia fell by an average of 8 percent in January.