Uncertain economics of wind energy

  • 2004-08-26
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - As media institutions across Europe grapple with the threat of global warming, politicians, NGOs and ministries in the Baltic states are laying the groundwork to increase the level of renewable resource energy. Indeed, all three Baltic states will have to increase their supply of renewable resources - wind, hydroelectric, biomass and geothermal - under EU directives by 2010.

One renewable energy source that Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have dabbled in is wind. Wind turbines abound in Baltic Sea areas such as Grobina, near Liepaja (known as the Land Where the Wind is Born) and along the Lithuanian coast.
"At present we are developing plans to expand the production of electricity from renewable sources," said Andrius Bulovas, director of the energy development department in Lithuania's Economy Ministry. "In the energy development plan approved by the government, we forecast that by 2009, 7.4 percent of electricity will come from wind power."
"One problem we have encountered with developing wind power is the relative expense. Wind power is bought at 0.22 litas (0.064 euro) per megawatt, which is more expensive than nuclear," he added.
Just last week the Estonian government approved its plan for increasing renewable energy to 10 percent of the country's annual consumption by 2020. By 2010, according to the draft, renewable resources should account for 5.1 percent of total kilowatt output.
According to the draft, which was put together by the Economy and Communication Ministry, the combined output of electric and thermal plants should account for no more than 20 percent of energy consumption.
In Latvia, wind energy already plays a key role in the country's power output. The vast majority of wind turbines - the largest of their kind in the Baltics according to Latvia's Energy Builders, a private construction company - are found in the western part of the country where 33 windmills have been constructed in a single wind-park. The remaining two are located in Ainazi on the Estonian border.
According to the Economy Ministry, wind power currently accounts for a total of 23 megawatts toward the project. Other turbines are in the works for Liepaja.
Nevertheless, new wind-power parks are unlikely, as guarantees on buying wind energy that were given to the first parks may not be distributed again.
To help finance wind power, the government mandated that state energy company Latvenergo buy left over turbine energy at double the tariff, in effect subsidizing their use, said Latvenergo press officer Andris Siksnis.
In practice, wind energy has not proven to be as profitable an enterprise as many hoped, and policy makers are looking at other sources of renewable resources to augment the current supply.
Still, Latvia already produces a considerable amount of energy - a little over 40 percent, mostly from hydroelectric energy, according to the Economy Ministry - of its energy from renewable sources.
Moreover, the country is set to increase its total up to the high 40s by 2010. But Hydro-electric dams, located across the country, have proved controversial over the years since they have caused periodic flooding and damaged fish stocks.
"Some sources of renewable resources are not exactly environmentally friendly," said Ronalds Bebris, head of the environmental protection office.