The Baltics stare into an electricity black hole
By Ben Nimmo Jun 12, 2007, 16:43 GMT
Riga - Less than five years after the Baltic states joined the European Union, they are facing an energy crisis which the EU has helped to create.
'In 2010, if we don't make additional investments, the Baltic states will become an energy-deficit region,' said Anicetas Ignotas, undersecretary of state at Lithuania's economics ministry.
At the heart of the problem is the Soviet-era nuclear power station at Ignalina in eastern Lithuania.
According to official figures, in 2005 the 1500-megawatt plant supplied almost three-quarters of Lithuania's total electricity output, with enough left over to export some to Latvia.
But under the terms of Lithuania's EU accession treaty, the plant, which was built to the same design as the ill-fated Chernobyl reactor, must be closed down by the end of 2009 - almost a decade ahead of the date which its builders had envisaged.
In February 2006, the governments of the three Baltic states agreed to jointly construct a new nuclear power plant at Ignalina.
The decision was one of 'huge strategic importance for the whole region,' Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said.
But such a plant is not expected to open before 2015 - leaving the Baltics facing a potentially critical shortfall.
'The shutdown will destroy the current balance of energy supply in the Baltic states,' admitted Ugis Sarma, head of the energy department at the Latvian economy ministry.
In the last year, each country separately, and all three together, have sought ways to bridge the energy gap.
Much of the attention has focused on linking the Baltics' energy grids into European networks. Until recently, the trio formed an energy island within the EU, with no physical links to the West.
In December 2006, that isolation was broken as a 350-megawatt cable, Estlink, was opened between Finland and Estonia.
The move proved the value of Baltic cooperation, but it should be followed by a link between Sweden's national grid and either Latvia or Lithuania, Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said.
Also in December, the Polish and Lithuanian governments agreed to construct a bridge between their power grids - paving the way to Polish participation in the new Ignalina project.
But cross-border linkages are seen as, at best, a partial solution. All three countries are now planning new conventional power stations in an effort to boost their energy independence.
Estonia is planning to build two oil-shale power stations, to replace two which will be closed in 2015, while Lithuania plans to increase its capacity for gas-powered heat and power generation.
And Latvia is debating the construction of a coal- or gas-fired plant, with coal at present apparently the more likely choice.
But these plans are still in their infancy. The Polish-Lithuanian energy bridge is not expected before 2011, while the Swedish-Baltic link and the Latvian and Estonian power stations exist only on paper.
And with Ignalina due to close down in 2009, the Baltics may find it hard to stop their tumble into the energy black hole.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur