Feature: Bosnians struggle to keep warm in winter

SARAJEVO, Nov. 26 (Xinhua) -- Over the past decade, wood pellets became a highly popular fuel for heating homes in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), a country with almost two-thirds of its territory covered by forests.

But with pellet prices having tripled this year, many Bosnians now regret the money they spent on installing expensive pellet boilers.

Alija Hadzic, a 61-year-old forestry worker from Sarajevo, is one of them.

When he installed his boiler in the basement of his home in 2021, he could buy one ton of wood pellets for around 150 euros (154 U.S. dollars). Now, prices hover around 450 euros per ton and more, if one is lucky enough to get it at all.

"Not even the export ban on wood pellets helped much," Hadzik told Xinhua, referring to government measures in June, which suspended the sale of both wood pellets and firewood abroad.

He was lucky, though, because he bought his five tons in time, "just before prices went crazy," he said.

While Hadzik is set for this winter, he is anxious about the prospects for next year. Should prices remain so high, or should there be a shortage of wood pellets, he would be forced to switch back to firewood, which is more affordable.

"The price of firewood has also increased but not nearly as much as wood pellets," he said.

Before the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the latter used to be a major supplier of firewood and wood pellets to Europe. Now the markets are forced to look for new sources of supply, including around 40 Bosnian wood pellet producers.

High demand has pushed up the wood pellet and firewood prices on the domestic market. In the latter case, the increase has been more than 50 percent.

Before the export ban, Bosnia exported 500 to 700 tons of wood pellets daily, said Muhamed Helac, co-owner of Drvosjeca. His company is the country's biggest supplier of firewood, wood pellets, and coal.

In early November, the governments of both Bosnian entities, the Republika Srpska and the Federation of BiH, decided to cap the price of wood pellets at 280 euros per ton.

"That is still double the price I used to pay in previous years," said 56-year-old Emir Hasanbegovic from Mostar, a city located some 120 km southwest of the capital Sarajevo. This makes him angry as Bosnia is covered with woods, therefore he expects wood products to be cheaper.

In previous years, he used four tones of wood pellets per season to heat his home. But due to the sky-high fuel prices, this is no longer economical, he said.

On Klix, the most visited website in the country, a pensioner revealed a "strategy" to keep warm in the most economical way.

"My friend and I spend a lot of time in shopping centers, where we meet with our friends. We drink coffee or tea, hang out and then go for a walk, looking out of the windows. In this way we could save money for heating our homes and also divert our dark thoughts from problems," the pensioner explained.

Hasanbegovic is one of many Bosnians who are switching to electricity to heat their homes. Bosnian media reported about rising demand for heat pumps, and for cheaper electric heating devices such as air-conditions, radiators, and heating fans.

Subsidized by the state, the price of electricity has remained unchanged this year, making it a more competitive option to heat homes than the previously popular wood products. But there is no guarantee that electricity prices will stay low, said Admir Andelija, director of Elektroprivreda, one of the country's three publicly owned electricity companies.

"The company will be forced to double the price of electricity for households for the extra part of consumption that exceeds their last year's average," Andelija told the BHT, the state-owned TV broadcaster, in an interview.

A sudden boom in domestic electricity consumption may also undermine the role of BiH as a major electricity exporter, experts have warned. The country currently sells a quarter of its annual production mainly to Croatia and Serbia. This yielded 450 million euros in revenue in the first nine months this year, according to Elektroprivreda.

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