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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

The lights come back on in Moscow Region - but for how long?

Electrical Switching YardAfter more than two weeks of power shortages, Moscow Region finally got itself plugged in once again on Monday.

But for many areas which were plunged into darkness after the ice storms of Dec. 25 and 26 the relief is only temporary ­ and the inquest into what went wrong is continuing.

Heavy rainfall followed by a sharp frost played havoc with electricity supplies as trees collapsed under the weight of the ice, pulling down cables and resulting in thousands of people left without power over the New Year.

As well as the lights going out, many homes were without heating and water as vital equipment was left useless.

No back-up

By Jan. 10 all the cables had been reconnected, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported, but the problem was not at an end.

In 11 regions the connections rest on a single line from the substation to the settlement, with no back up plans in case of any further problems.

And Jan. 11 was due to bring planned power cuts to many villages in Moscow Region to allow staff to start restoring back-up cables, RIA Novosti reported.

In the dark

As the Kremlin clock struck midnight on Dec. 31, Moscow Region governor Boris Gromov and Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko were unable to watch Dmitry Medvedev give his address to the nation.

Instead ­ on Vladimir Putin's orders ­ they were chinking champagne glasses among the stricken villagers of Moscow Region, where 35 villages and 4,000 people were disconnected.

And early in the New Year new snowfall and strong winds brought more cables down, leaving 32,000 people in 88 settlements powerless.

Structural problems

The region's electricity company, MOESK, has come under fire with many angry commentators pointing out that this is the heart of Russia, not some remote Siberian outpost.

But PR director Vitaly Strugovets told KP it was partly down to a shortage of staff and equipment, and partly due to the unusual weather.

And he blamed federal law for exacerbating the problem, saying that in wooded areas trees could not be fell more than 12 metres from the power lines ­ while most of the trees were 15-20 metres tall and could still fall on the cables.

While emergency measures have allowed the power firm to expand these gaps, Strugovets said the only reliable solution was to bury electricity lines underground.

But he added that after investing 110 billion roubles ($3.5 billion) over the past five years, further modernisation needed federal backing.

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