Estlink heralds Baltics'
energy window to West
TALLINN - The much-anticipated undersea
power cable linking Estonia and Finland was launched
on Dec. 4, ushering in a new era of a common Baltic-Nordic
energy market and less dependence on Russian energy.
Estonia's leaders and top EU officials hailed the
110 million euro project, with President Toomas
Hendrik Ilves calling it "a new energy window
The 105 kilometer cable, built by the ABB Group,
is based on state-of-the-art technology. It is only
10 centimeters in diameter yet can handle 350 MW
of power, enough to satisfy the needs of 300,000
Estlink was a priority EU project for boosting regional
energy security - not just from the politicization
of supplies, but also from inevitable blackouts
- and creating a better, safer power infrastructure
between the bloc's 25 members.
For the Baltics, whose grids are still intertwined
with Russia's electrical system, the cable represents
increased energy security, particularly in light
of the imminent closing of the second reactor of
the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant in 2009.
EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs also attended
the opening ceremony in Harju, just outside Tallinn.
"In today's world, the security of supplies
is critical," he said. "The Estlink cable
builds more security of supply for the Baltic states
but also for Finland."
Piebalgs, a native Latvian, added, "It is important
for me that the Baltic states are no longer an island
in the EU."
"It"s a great piece of engineering, but
the real importance of Estlink transcends pure engineering,"
ABB CEO Fred Kindle said after the ceremony. "It
brings the Baltic and Nordic regions one step closer
to a fully integrated electricity grid and does
that at minimal environmental impact."
The Estlink project was launched in April 2005 by
Nordic Energy Link. The owners include the Baltic
states' three energy companies - Eesti Energia,
Latvenergo and Lietuvos Energija - and two Finnish
Project leaders warned, however, that the energy
running back and forth across the cable wouldn't
necessarily translate into cheaper electricity.
"We're building a bigger market area,"
said Sandor Liive, CEO of Eesti Energia. "What
that means for customers is the best possible electricity
price available at all times."
Despite the hoopla in Harju, Baltic energy leaders
may clamor for yet more energy links to other EU
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said
that Estonia would need more power cables than just
Estlink. "Its capacity is modest, so it is
necessary to build further links," he said
in March. "Most of the burden on building the
connections will be borne by companies, but countries
of the region and the EU must in every way possible
promote the establishment of the necessary infrastructure."
Eesti Energia's Liive echoed the conclusion, saying
in April that Estlink wouldn't be enough. "Estlink
is the first serious cooperation project between
the Baltic states and Finnish power companies. I
am confident it will not be the last," said
Liive, who is also chairman of Nordic Energy Link.
In particular, the Baltics would like to hook their
power grids up to Sweden and Poland. "Only
when the Baltic power grids are well connected with
Northern and Western Europe will the prerequisites
for a functioning electricity market be created
in the Baltics," he said.
Proposed links for Estonia include a 600 MW cable
to Sweden and another high-voltage undersea cable
to Finland that would originate in either Paldiski
to the west of Tallinn or Johvi on the northeastern
In September, Lithuanian and Polish officials signed
a protocol of intent to build a power bridge between
the two countries. The signing comes after years
of discussions and procrastination on Poland's end,
since the country's previous leadership had different
priorities for EU-funded projects.
"After a decade of discussions, we have finally
made the first real step toward the integration
of Lithuania's energy system into the common energy
market of the European Union,” said Lithuanian
Economy Minister Vytas Navickas.
"Implementation of the project will also give
impetus to the idea of the Baltic Ring - a common
free energy-market based on regional energy systems
around the Baltic Sea."