BY ILDA HOXHA
Valbona, a mountain tourism gem in the north of Albania, is facing serious problems with its electricity supply. According to the guesthouse owners, the main causes are the deterioration of the distribution network and a lack of investments. Despite an increase in the number of tourists, the old power lines cannot handle the demand, which directly impacts tourism. The Albanian Energy Regulatory Entity (ERE) report confirms that in Tropoja, the area where energy is produced, electricity losses reach around 55%, the highest level of loss in the country.
During a plenary session in the Albanian Parliament on 5 June, Isuf Çelaj, a Member of Parliament from the Democratic Party (PD) representing Tropoja, expressed concerns about the electricity supply in Valbona, one of the most frequented tourist destinations in northern Albania.
“It is the government’s duty to ensure conditions for sustainable tourism, and one of the key aspects is a 24-hour electricity supply, which is not guaranteed for these residents. The power lines are old and damaged, despite the area’s energy production, there is still a lack of electricity”, said among others MP Çelaj.
In response to his statement, Faktoje made inquiries to the Albanian Electricity Distribution Operator and the Municipality of Tropoja to gather information about the current situation in Valbona and whether any investments have been made in the electricity network.
As of the publication date of this article, there has been no response from these institutions.
Bledar Kubani, a guesthouse owner in Valbona, explained to Faktoje that the electricity capacity in the area has increased, but there have been no investments in the distribution network. Consequently, occasional power outages occur in the region. He said, “The network is small, with increased capacities and more guesthouses, it collapses under the load. The electricity supply is weak. While power outages don’t happen daily, during busy tourist periods, the lights may go out for an hour or even the whole day; it’s unpredictable.”
Pëllumb Bisheva, a tourist guide familiar with the northern region of Albania, including Valbona Valley, highlighted the problems faced by business owners and residents in the area. He explained, “In Valbona Valley, there are several villages like Klysyra, Dragobia, Valbona, and Rrogami. The main problem is that the power lines are far away; they are aerial. During heavy snowfall, the power poles collapse, leaving these villages without electricity most of the time. Winter exacerbates the issues, as heavy snowfall, wind, or other factors can cause poles to fall. An underground solution might be the only effective measure.
“Pëllumb also noted that during the summer, there is usually electricity, except when damage occurs. However, the network is heavily depreciated and prone to failures. In the summer, electricity problems may last 2-3 days at most and get fixed, while in winter, it can take 1-2 weeks to restore electricity due to challenging weather conditions. He pointed out three main issues: low voltage, a deteriorated network, and control problems, as defects occur, but there are insufficient resources for quick repairs”, he explains.
According to Pëllumb, Valbona experiences a significant influx of tourists during the summer. Foreign tourists, Albanian tourists, and many Albanians from Kosovo visit Valbona, and on weekends, accommodation requests exceed the capacity.
View from Valbona
However, the concern arises regarding the impact of power outages on tourists. Pëllumb explains, “Foreign tourists are not bothered by the lack of lights, while Albanian tourists get very nervous. Foreigners say, ‘We are in a village, it happens, it’s a defect.'”
Nevertheless, he shares a story about Çeremi, a tourist village in the area, which lacks any connection to the electrical grid. “Çeremi has no electricity at all, except for a small line with a transformer in the Çeremi square. The rest of the village remains unconnected,” reveals Pëllumb Bisheva.
View from Çeremi, where there is no electricity
Despite the lack of conventional power, guesthouses in Çeremi accommodate many foreign tourists, relying on solar panels and wood stoves for cooking,” Pëllumb Bisheva informs.
View from Çeremi, where guesthouses function using solar panels
The 2022 report from the Energy Regulatory Entity highlights the electricity losses in Tropoja, including Valbona Valley, which amount to 54.8%, the highest level in the country.
Screenshot, ERE report for 2022
This high figure signifies a lack of investments in the distribution network for this valley, which ironically is the zone of electricity production.