TALLINN – The Estonian Environmental Board said that the owner of the Linnamae hydroelectric power plant and dam, Wooluvabrik OU, is attempting to mislead the public and extend the procedure for the extension of an environmental permit at Linnamae with interim injunction.
The Environmental Board is of the opinion that in order to achieve nature conservation goals, damming and the production of electricity at Linnamae must be stopped. However, according to the authority, it is possible to preserve the Linnamae dam, which is protected as a monument. The Environmental Board expects constructive cooperation from Wooluvabrik OU in this process.
In a press release sent on Friday, Jan. 14, Wooluvabrik OU claims that the government has decided that the Linnamae reservoir should be preserved. According to the Environmental Board, Wooluvabrik OU also manipulated with other false allegations on both environmental protection and energy security issues in its press release.
The Environmental Board pointed out that the dispute over the Linnamae dam has arisen because the lower reaches of the Jagala River are of great nature conservation importance, this area belongs to the European network of Natura 2000 sites as the Jagala nature area.
The existing environmental permit of Wooluvabrik OU for damming and electricity production at Linnamae is about to expire and the company is applying for a new environmental permit to continue operations. However, according to the authority, such activities must be in line with the conservation objectives of a Natura site.
In order to consider the possibility and conditions for issuing a new environmental water permit, the Environmental Board analyzed the impact of the activities on the Jagala nature area and concluded that it is not possible to continue damming and electricity production at Linnamae without compromising the conservation objectives and integrity of the Natura 2000 network.
The results of the Natura assessment have been made public from the beginning of December until Feb. 7. The materials are available on the website of the Environmental Board. A decision on a new environmental permit can be made after the Environmental Board has collected and analyzed the feedback on the Natura assessment reports.
The Environmental Board emphasized that the government has not decided that economic or other public interests outweigh conservation interests. It can be read from the memo of a Cabinet meeting in 2019, which discussed the disagreements related to the Linnamae dam, that environmental interests do not automatically outweigh social and economic interests on the basis of the available information. The following section refers to the need for an environmental impact assessment, which has already been carried out by the Environmental Board.
The Environmental Board also pointed out that the capacity of the Linnamae hydroelectric power plant is 1.15 megawatts. According to Statistics Estonia, it is about 0.2 percent of the electricity produced in Estonia from renewable sources in 2020. However, renewable energy is only a third of all energy produced in Estonia.
According to the Environmental Board, from the point of view of energy security, Linnamae therefore provides only a marginal amount of Estonian energy production and the contribution of the hydroelectric power plant can easily be replaced by another renewable energy source. For example, a conventional onshore wind turbine has a capacity of 3 megawatts and the proposed offshore wind turbines have a capacity of 6 to 20 megawatts.
"It is inappropriate to compare the benefits of electricity generation at Linnamäe with the loss of the ecological status of the river and the migratory fish population," the authority said.
The Environmental Board added that the ex-post evaluation of Natura proved that damming and the production of electricity damage the habitats and riverine habitat type of salmon, river lamprey, European bullhead and thick-shelled river mussels.
"We are not talking about a thousand migratory fish upon the opening of the Linnamae dam, which will have a spawning ground. According to the forecast of the Estonian Maritime Institute, the number of salmon descending from the river can be estimated at up to 12,600 fish. The share of the spawning grounds behind the dam is estimated at 15-20 percent of the reproduction potential of Salmonidae fish in the Gulf of Finland," the authority said.
The Environmental Board emphasized that it has not demanded the demolition of the Linnamae dam. The Environmental Board has constantly explained and referred to the fact that access can be built for fish in such a way that the building of historical value is preserved.
In addition, according to the authority, there is no reason to claim that the good condition of bat colonies living at Linnamae is related to the damming. "A watercourse is also a suitable feeding area for bats, and wintering areas, not feeding areas, are the critical factor for bats. When comparing the endangerment of bats and salmon, the bats found on the Jagala River are in a favorable condition based on the evaluation of the red list, while the salmon is assessed as an endangered species," the authority said.
"Across Europe, the damming of rivers has endangered migratory fish populations, so keeping the Jagala River free of migration barriers upstream of the Linnamae dam and restoring natural habitats is important not only in Estonia but also in the international context," the authority added.