Premiers declared Baltic states’ departure from the Russian grid

Andrus Karnau
, ajakirjanik
The Estonian and Latvian prime ministers opened yesterday in Kilingi-Nõmme a high-voltage power line.
The Estonian and Latvian prime ministers opened yesterday in Kilingi-Nõmme a high-voltage power line. Photo: Mailiis Ollino

The Estonian and Latvian prime ministers opened yesterday in Kilingi-Nõmme a high-voltage power line which could be doubtlessly described as the most beautiful in Estonia.

Probably everyone traveling from Tallinn to Saaremaa has noticed a pylon named Swamp Fox in Risti, at the border of Harju and Western counties. Sille Pihlak and Siim Tuksam, the authors of the 45 meters high rust-colored steel pylon weighing 30 tons, have received lots of praise for their work. This is one of the 972 pylons carrying the new high voltage line in Estonia and Latvia.

The power line from Tallinn to Riga, which passes through Kilingi-Nõmme, is the third one between the two countries. The other two high voltage lines pass through Valga. It now becomes possible to reconstruct these lines built in the 1960s and 1970s. The reconstruction of the Valmiera-Tsirguliina and Valmiera-Tartu lines should be completed in 2025. As the connection to Russia will be severed at the end of the same year, the Tallinn-Riga link will replace the Estonian-Latvian connection which so far occurred through Russia. While a transmission capacity of up to 1,000 MW was available for energy trade between the two Baltic countries, the reconstruction of the lines through Valga will boost it to 1,800 MW.

Why is the 170 million investment necessary? First, the prices of electricity at the Latvian energy exchange are frequently higher than in Estonia because of the limited transmission capacity. Secondly, this line is necessary for the realization of the Baltic states’ main energy policy goal – uncoupling from the Russian energy grid by the end of 2025. and thirdly, this line allows for the construction of large wind farms in Western Estonia as well as in the sea.

TV stars provided entertainment

Ain Köster, PR head of Elering, speculated that hundreds of megawatts worth of wind generators could be hooked up to the power line circling from Harku to Sindi in Western Estonia. But a 1,000 MW maritime wind farm would require new investments in high voltage lines.

The power line linking the two countries is also a politically sensitive issue because this is part of the EU-funded uncoupling of the Baltic states’ power grid from that of Russia or the desynchronization plan. For that purpose, the EU finances the reconstruction of the power grids of the three Baltic states and Poland for a total of 1.2 billion euros. Although the Estonian-Latvian power line was completed already in the end of last year and has been transmitting energy between the states for almost eight months, the official opening only happened this Wednesday (August 25).

The opening ceremony was a politically high-level event. Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas summed it up well in her brief introduction: “The atmosphere is like the Eurovision song contest.” The Estonian TV star Anu Välba was on the state entertaining the energy firms’ managers and construction entrepreneurs. She was supported by the Latvian TV and radio anchorman Valdis Melderis. Kilingi-Nõmme was selected as the site for the celebration for the reason that the new line to Latvia departs from the local substation.

The speeches of Kaja Kallas, Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš and European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson repeated phrases like energy security, green deal, climate policy goals, economic growth and stable electricity market. Indeed, what could one say at the opening of a power line consisting of pylons and cables?

Kallas assured that the Baltic states will keep their promise and will uncouple their energy grid from Russia by the end of 2025. Kariņš remarked that the power line will strengthen the electricity market and political ties between Latvia and Estonia. He had to admit that the advantages of renewable energy still need to be explained to the Latvians. “If there is a lot of renewable energy, people will understand that wind and sunlight will always cost the same amount, unlike gas and oil, whose prices have rapidly increased,” Kariņš said.

He added that there is no need to explain the European green deal to the youths since global warming is an existential issue for them; therefore there is no question whether to make changes to the production and consumption of energy.

Kallas repeated on Wednesday that the Estonian government has decided to give up the use of oil shale by 2040. She remarked that the East Viru miners and energy producers understand that Estonia is a part of the world. “They do not resist the giving up of oil shale; they are worried like we all about finding a new job,” Kallas said.

Kariņš added that abiding with the EU climate policy demands would open a common market with 450 million residents to Latvian companies. “Firms can earn a lot after the adoption of pure energy,” he said. Kallas agreed and said that there are no giant corporations in green economy like Google in IT; therefore small firms have good opportunities for growth.

“It is our greatest fear that Russia will sever the energy links with the Baltic states before we are ready for it,” Kariņš said. “As a politician I could say that let us uncouple the power lines but politics cannot move before physics.”

Elering is building flywheels

The third Baltic state, Lithuania, would like to see a faster severing of energy links. The three Baltic states’ relations are strained since the Estonians and the Latvians do not want to hurry before their energy grids are ready to cope without the Russian system. The main indicator of quality of the energy grid, frequency, is presently maintained by the Russian electricity system. While the Estonian-Russian relations of the past thirty years have been like an endless downward roller coaster ride, the relations have been cloudless in one respect. Russia has never failed us in energy links and the grid frequency.

Starting from 2025, Estonia and the Baltic states will have to maintain the frequency independently. How much would that cost?

Taavi Veskimägi, head of Elering, said that he does not know how much maintaining the grid frequency after desynchronization would cost Estonia. He believed that it could require an estimated 30 million euros per year. The Russia hydroelectric power stations provide the service free of charge at present.

The situation is complicated by the EU climate policy which forces the last large controlled power station of the Baltic states, the Narva station, work with interruptions. To compensate that, Elering will build in the near future three large flywheels or synchronicity compensators; their rotation will help to maintain the grid frequency. Their construction will cost approximately 80 million euros.

Veskimägi stressed that the new power transmission line would not increase the transmission fees, at least for the time being, since the investment was made with the EU support and using the earnings from Elering’s cross-border trade. Therefore it would not be included in the assets as a regular investment which the electricity consumers would have to pay for.

The construction of the new power line meant business for dozens of enterprises all over Europe. Tomasz Dabrowski, Director General of the Polish enterprise Selpol took part in a consortium which built the power line in Latvia. Dabrowski praised the good planning of the Latvian authorities while enjoying coffee in Kilingi-Nõmme. “Everything was ready for the builders, there were no problems, unlike in Poland,” he said.