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OVERVIEW - Offshore wind lures Estonia, scares Lithuania and Latvia

Map of Baltic region. Author: NormanEinstein on Wikimedia Commons. License: Creative Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

April 6 (SeeNews) - Estonia, the tiniest state in the Baltics, has spearheaded e-governance and e-citizenship, not to mention its signature app - Skype. With around 1,700 MW in offshore wind power to be up and running by 2020, Estonia will be a clear standout in the Baltics.

“Only Estonia of three Baltic countries is rapidly advancing with offshore wind power plans. Lithuanian offshore projects got stuck because of the ever-changing regulatory basis and, in Latvia, they have been put on hold,” Saulius Piksrys, director of Lithuania’s Wind Power Association (LVEA), told SeeNews Renewables. He believes that in Lithuania there is no “political will” to pursue offshore wind power.

PROJECTS IN PROGRESS

A massive wind farm of between 700 MW and 1,100 MW in the Baltic Sea is planned near Estonia’s Hiiumaa Island, says Sigrit Laas, a representative of Nelja Energia, the Tallinn-based project developer also known as 4Energia.

“Now the project is in the final stage of its environmental studies,” Laas told SeeNews.

Another project, of 600 MW in capacity, is planned for an area to the south and southwest of Kihnu Island in the Gulf of Riga. According to Tuuliki Kasonen, general manager of the Estonian Wind Power Association, wind measurements and bird studies have been completed.

Both projects are expected to be greenlit this year.

As of now, Estonia does not have any operational wind power facility at sea.

HELPFUL LEGISLATION?

In Lithuania, offshore wind projects are pursued by JSC Renerga and the aforementioned 4Energia. Both companies have completed EIAs. Although the developers may seem to be advancing with their bids, the new regulation on seabed exploration licensing, which now has become the prerogative of the state, not the developer’s as previously, crippled the projects' progress.

“There is no use of the EIA papers since state institutions have turned a deaf ear to our requests to start the sea floor research, which needs to be done prior to construction. So our project is frozen, indefinitely I’d say,” Linas Sabaliauskas, the Renerga head and a senior officer in Lithuania’s wind power plant association (LVEA) told SeeNews.

He says the government explains the delays with the absence of necessary sub-acts to the country’s renewable legislation.

In Estonia, to compare, a law governing renewables has been successfully functioning since 2010.

“A permission to build and a permit for the special use of water is required to operate an offshore wind farm in Estonia. Also, the owner of an offshore wind farm must pay an annual charge for using a public water body, this is regulated by the Electricity Market Act,” Laas explained.

Estonia was the first EU member state who fulfilled its 2020 renewable energy targets several years in advance. “Now we are ready to help other EU countries achieve their targets. Offshore wind energy will play an important role there, especially because building wind farms in the Baltic Sea requires less support than in the North Sea,” the Nelja Energia official noted.

Research by the Technical University of Denmark infers conclusively that offshore wind energy will play an important role in the Baltic sea region, especially because building wind farms in the Baltic Sea requires significantly less support than in the North Sea.

“Our strategy is to employ the capacities nearer the coast. We are not intending to go deep into the sea as others,” Kasonen emphasized.

Meanwhile Latvia, the third Baltic State, has put the 200-MW offshore project known as Baltic Wind Park on ice due to a moratorium on additional renewables capacity in the country. Although the new Latvian Cabinet had promised to bring clarity to the expansion of clean energy in the country, the issue has not been heeded yet.

At end-2014 Latvia had reached a 38.7% renewables share in gross final consumption, which means it was very close to its 2020 target of 40%.

ONSHORE WIND

Although Lithuania beats Estonia in tapping onshore wind capacities - 424 MW is installed in Lithuania and 303 MW in Estonia - the exuberant Nordic neighbour may overtake and outstrip Lithuania soon with Eleon’s EUR-165-million (USD 187m) 100 MW wind farm, the construction of which has started at Aidu in northeastern Estonia. The facility will eventually consist of 30 turbines and its first stage is due by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, onshore wind power developers in Lithuania fear their wind plans may soon hit a roadblock if the Lithuanian government overhauls the wind power support scheme.

“The government does not want to support wind generation from the so-called public service obligation funds anymore,” Piksrys of LVEA pointed out.

Approached by SeeNews, Oliver Joy, spokesperson of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), acknowledged Lithuania as the inland wind development leader. Noting that all the three Baltic countries have good potential for both onshore and offshore wind power use, he, however, cautioned about the countries’ regulatory mechanism.

“Regulatory certainty with clear visibility for investors and future development is essential if deployment is to continue in these countries. Last year, Lithuania, for example, installed almost 150MW of onshore wind capacity, but Latvia and Estonia installed virtually nothing,” Joy said.

As energy security is a big issue in the Baltics and across Europe today, onshore wind power, he says, is the cheapest form of new power generation available and can be deployed at scale and quickly.

“Wind power can be the backbone of the European energy system and solve the energy security crisis facing many countries such as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia today,” the EWEA spokesman emphasized.

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About the author

Linas Jegelevicius is editor of a regional newspaper in Lithuania, author of three books and an active freelance journalist. Apart from the domestic market, he is also following the energy developments in all Baltic states and Russia.

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