By the Blouin News Business staff

Blackout’s aftermath may affect Turkey’s elections

by in Middle East.

Taner Yildiz gives a speech during the groundbreaking ceremony of the Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline Project (TANAP), will be carry Azerbaijan's natural gas to Europe through Turkey, in Turkey's Northeastern city of Kars on March 17, 2015. Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz gives a speech in Kars, Turkey, on March 17, 2015. Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Turkey announced on Monday that the head of its state-run power grid TEIAS had resigned in the aftermath of a massive blackout on March 31. The blackout, which affected 80 of Turkey’s 81 provinces and lasted roughly 9 hours, was triggered by shutdowns at two power plants. That led to a 5-10% drop in the system’s capacity, which had a domino effect throughout the grid, ultimately shutting it down nationwide. “Maintenance… should not all have been carried out at the same time,” Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on Monday, adding “Too much trust for the system and self-esteem of our colleagues have led us to this point.”

As Turkey’s economy and population have grown in recent years, so has its electricity consumption. And while the country has had to increase energy investments and imports of natural gas, its biggest source for power generation, Yildiz reiterated that there was no energy deficit in Turkey.

The March 31 blackout won’t affect a long-term deal to fully connect the power grids of Europe and Turkey, officials on both sides said. The formal agreement, expected to be signed on April 15, follows a trial period that started in September 2010. The head of Europe’s grid, Konstantin Staschus, said on April 1 that “The protection schemes have worked, the disturbance did not spread anywhere in Europe. From that perspective, the signature should go forward as planned.” He added that the connection with Europe also helped Turkey recover faster than it would have otherwise, noting that Thrace, the part of Turkey on the European continent, came back online first. Continental Europe also has connections with Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and, as in Turkey’s case, the economic benefits of connections providing reliable power and backup capacity from external sources outweigh the risks from a potential spread of a power disruption.

Yildiz also vowed that the government will take all measures to prevent electricity shortages during the upcoming elections on June 7. This was in response to opposition parties who recalled the blackout that took place during local polls on March 30, 2014, sparking speculation about possible electoral irregularities. The minister drew strong criticism at the time for his explanation: “I’m not joking, my friends. A cat entered a power distribution unit. It was the cause of the blackout, and it’s not the first time that it has happened. It is wrong to link it with the elections. It’s wrong to cry ‘foul play.’” Opposition leaders are now calling for Yildiz to resign, saying that this time around there is no cat to blame, and the head of TEIAS is a just a scapegoat for the minister’s incompetence.

A permanent connection to the European grid is welcome but it does not provide a safety net for mismanagement at TEIAS. And the blackout is yet another strike against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP) party, which has come under fire for its ominous crackdown on media freedom and civil rights. Turks will be able to express their displeasure through the ballot box soon enough.