Wind farms to require defence ministry's special building permit

Andres Reimer
, business journalist
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Most of mainland Estonia will turn into national defence area regarding construction where stuff like wind parks are not allowed to be built, should government proceed to approve relevant draft act prepared at defence ministry next week. 

At the start of this year, wind park developers were shocked to hear defence ministry opinions about restrictions to be applied for radars acquired to detect Russian airplanes to work properly. Covered by state secrecy, added to that was the topic of radio intelligence towards the east further narrowing the wind park options.

«Speed of movement of turbine blades is close to that of aircraft wherefore blind areas are created behind the turbines where radar will not detect planes so these can fly undetected,» said air surveillance division Mayor Mati Kuppar.

Electronic war conditions in mind, wind parks construction will freely be allowed only in a 10 km wide corridor running along mid-Estonia from around Loksa to Ikla. But there the wind conditions are so poor that it makes no sense to erect turbines. Another non-restriction spot is the tip of Sõrve säär, the Southernmost spot in the isle of Saaremaa facing Latvia.

«The right to set limitations was our as early as by building code established in 2015,» explained defence ministry infrastructure advisor Heddy Klasen. «This will not mean a ban on building turbines, but we will coordinate every object separately as guided by needs in intelligence and data collection.»

Defence ministry has drawn zones around radars placed in Estonia which determine height of turbines allowed. The largest part of Estonian mainland is covered by a 50 metres limit. This is the height for hobby wind mills in farmhouse yards, as coastal forests slow the winds down to be of no avail for industrial production of electricity. Quite close to the initial restricted zone, other areas follow with 100, 150, 200 and 250 metres of limitation where a perspective builder will have to coordinate his plans with defence ministry. Defence ministry showed Postimees the maps but would not give them to be published in the newspaper.

Thus, the defence ministry wiped out plans for nine wind parks planned for Northern Estonia. Only five are allowed, of which Viru-Nigula, Aseri and Narva parks already exist while Purtse and Aidu are in planning stage.

The first to get the cold shower was Adepte, a company which had already secured the public coordination for building a wind park in Ida-Virumaa’s Vaivina but the defence ministry now changed its mind and withdrew the agreement.

«The foreign investor involved in the project, from Spain, is very much disturbed and said that Estonia is trying to show itself to be a democracy based on rule of law while behaving like a South American dictatorship,» said Adepte board member Harry Raudvere.

«I get the impression that defence ministry is involved in a corruptive scheme regarding the wind parks already built as certain production volume has already been achieved on the Estonian wind energy market and every wind park added will make the state supports pie a bit smaller.»

Mr Raudvere said the decision process at the ministry looks confusing as the Aidu wind park with the Sõnajalg brothers as shareholders, next to Vaivina, was okayed. «Looks like broad military action is planned on Estonian territory,» said Mr Raudvere.

Serious criticism towards the defence ministry was also voiced by Toila parish government, on whose territory Mr Raudvere is planning the wind park. Namely, despite the missed deadline, the ministry is yet to officially notify Toila parish of its decision. «We just sent the ministry a letter to remind them of their obligation to notify us of the decision,» said Toila parish elder Tiit Kuusmik. «Should they refuse, then the parish will be caught between two fires and must go to court with developers as formally and legally the parish is responsible for the refusal.»

Also, for Toila parish the ban on Vaivina wind park will spell cancelling of some access roads to private houses in the area promised by the developer.  

The activism of defence ministry with setting restrictions on wind energy development also sparked serious concern at economy ministry where they found it was against legal clarity to ban wind parks before an essential discussion in cabinet. Even so, considering the growing tensions due to increased aggressiveness of Russia, economy minister Kristen Michal picked his words carefully to comment, saying he was willing to discuss the defence ministry plan when in the cabinet session.

For developers, the situation is muddied by the constant changes at defence ministry opinions. Instability of the powers serves to sow further insecurity in hearts of investors. «When they begun to plan and to build the current radars, the talk was about a 50 kilometre impact radius but now the restrictions cover all of Estonia,» observed chairman of a leading Estonian wind parks developer Nelja Energia, Martin Kruus. «This year, they added the radio intelligence topic which we never heard of a year ago.»

Basically, defence ministry is driving wind park developers into the sea as, according to Mr Kruus, on land there’s no more room for the wind turbines. They could operate in Western Estonia but there both powers and people are against wind turbines on coastal area.

«Nelja Energia foresaw such developments and is therefore considering open sea wind parks,» said Mr Kruus. «As in sea the costs will be much higher, one version is businesses acquiring additional radars for defence ministry. We have not decided about that yet, but are willing to discuss it.»

The restrictions desired by defence ministry were also discouraged derided by Estonian Association of Spatial Planners. «The association is of the opinion that the regulation at hand is in contradiction with provisions of national planning «Eesti 2030+»,» wrote CEO if the association Maie-Ly Rebas. «For larger wind parks on land, there are especially many options in former mining areas in Ida-Virumaa where the wind potential is satisfactory and there are fewer social controversies and nature conservation restrictions.»

The defence ministry takes the regulation to cabinet session on April 21st.



Andres Sõnajalg, CEO of Wind Technology Association (Tuuletehnoloogia Liit)


It is unthinkable, talking about defence ministry, to seek to block an entire branch of industry, thereby applying sudden brakes on Estonian economy and wind technology production with one of the greatest potentials of export. In Estonia, we are no longer only talking about erecting imported wind turbines but they are also produced here locally according to technology patented in over 150 countries. This means jobs, tax income, and resulting in economic and energy security. A functioning wind mill industry is especially vital for Ida-Virumaa where these very issues are the sharpest.

Herein, Aidu and Vaivara and other wind parks will have to be treated separately. The first – Aidu wind park with 30 turbines planned and also to be the first park based on Estonian’s own technology – is already in building stage and naturally we have all the needed coordination agreements.

With Aidu wind park alone, jobs will be several hundred. To coordinate the Aidu park, defence ministry set conditions which we were able to meet by compromises. Thus, the current discussions do not concern Aidu park, rather the Vaivara one. Also, to be precise: the ministry of defence has not banned that either but has set two alternatives: to substantially cut height of turbines, or install an additional radar with developer partially financing.

Lower turbines would substantially diminish effectiveness; with the other alternative, there is readiness by the developer to compromise and invest.

Let it be mentioned that by the national planning the state has undertook to install the extra radar itself; but, as I said, we are willing to compromise. For solutions with Vaivara, an analysis is underway in cooperation with defence industry enterprises to mitigate impact on defence capability.  

Not clear at the moment if soundness of mind will prevail, but it would make sense to compile a competent work group where parties find optimal conjunction for defence and wind energy. The seeking of solutions cannot happen in two mutually exclusive regimes.