Undersea cable plugs Baltics into Finland

  • 2006-09-27
  • By Joel Alas
TALLINN - The connection between the Baltic countries and their Nordic neighbors shifted from being symbolic to tangible last week as the Estlink undersea power cable reached Finnish shores. On Sept. 21, maritime construction workers laid the final stretch of the cable, which extends from Kakumae Bay near Tallinn to a substation in Espoo on the Finnish coast.

It is only a matter of months before the cable is switched on, allowing all the Baltic countries to buy and sell power to Finland, Sweden and Norway. It is hoped the connection will drive down domestic electricity prices, reduce reliance on Russian power and increase energy efficiency across the region.

The cable was rolled off the bow of a British cable-laying vessel, and will now be sunk a further one meter below the floor of the sea to keep from being caught by ships' anchors.
Measuring just 10 centimeters in diameter, the two parallel wires stretch 75 kilometers under the Gulf of Finland, and a further 20 kilometers underground. They will carry 350 megawats of power.
Built at a cost of 1.7 billion kroons (108.6 million euros), the Estlink connection is one of the largest collaborations ever undertaken between the two regions.

"This is an important moment. The connection is very symbolic. The cable itself is now there. We expect the whole project will be complete by the end of November," a spokeswoman for Eesti Energia said.
"It works both ways, so it will allow countries to buy power from wherever it is cheaper. Right now it is cheaper in the Baltics, so the Baltic countries can sell their power to the Nordic countries."

Estonia already enjoys the benefits of its own home-grown power supply. Its main power plants in Narva are fired off oil shale mined in its own territory. But the connection is a further means of securing power supply and shifting further away from Russia, which has begun using its energy as a tool of diplomatic pressure.
Tallinn University technology professor Heiki Tammoja, who heads the department of electrical power engineering, said the purpose of the cable was primarily financial.
"This power cable is very important. It means we can export or import our power. We finally have a reserve," Professor Tammoja said.

He added that Estonia's oil shale plants were not environmentally optimal, but could be improved. Newly installed units at the Narva plant would help reduce emissions. The cable would also allow Estonia to take advantage of more green-friendly power sources in other countries, such as hydroelectric plants in Finland.