Meri meets NRG in Minnesota to discuss environment

  • 2000-04-13
  • By Brooke Donald
TALLINN - Representatives of U.S.-based NRG Energy assured President Lennart Meri during a meeting at the energy concern's headquarters in Minneapolis on April 7 that the company was committed to sound environmental policies and would not pose a threat to conservation efforts if and when the company buys Estonia's two largest power plants.

In fact, NRG has said it can help introduce pollution prevention measures, to ensure that the plant, which is powered mainly by oil shale, will not harm the environment while supplying Estonia's power.

NRG representatives invited Meri to meet them so that they could introduce the company's ideology and worldwide investment policies to the president, who was already on an earlier planned visit to the mid-western state.

As part of the privatization deal due to be finalized at the end of this month, NRG has agreed to modernize the power plants, which should result in more efficient and more environmentally-friendly machinery.

Hillar Lauri, NRG representative in Estonia, said the refurbishment of the plants that goes along with privatization is aimed at reducing emissions of certain gases. The estimated cost to complete renovation work is 3.3 billion kroons and repairs are expected to be completed in five years.

Meri became involved in talks that have lasted nearly four years -after expressing his concern over the Narva Electrijaamad privatization negotiations during his Independence Day speech in February.

Meri surprised followers of the talks by stating that he disapproves of the privatization scheme, saying the deal had too little strategic vision and could cause problems instead of solving them.

"I have the task to do everything possible to secure the prosperity of the Estonian state and people," he said, "to guarantee the defense of our country's economic power -including our integration with any neighboring countries as concerns power production."

Since delivering that speech on Feb. 23, the president has met with Economics Minister Mihkel Parnoja to discuss Meri's concerns over the deal, as well as with Defense Minster Juri Luik, Foreign Minister Toomas Ilves and other experts. All parties have said the president has been satisfied with the meetings.

Meri said that with such a large transaction by the state, scrutiny over the terms and conditions of the deal was the only way to be sure the deal was in the best interests of the people and the country.

Under the current deal, the U.S. firm will acquire a 49 percent stake in the two power plants. In turn, the Estonian state will guarantee that it buy from the Narva power stations 75 percent of the produced power until 2005 and 50 percent until 2015. The agreements will be signed by Eesti Energia and NRG. The Narva plants provide the majority of energy to Estonia.

Lauri said the president's skepticism would not likely slow the negotiations.

During his meeting with Parnoja on March 29, Meri affirmed that he does not doubt the credibility of the likely buyer, NRG Energy, according to the economics minister.

To further display the company's commitment to environmental preservation, the leaders of NRG showed Meri an eagle's nest atop a chimney at the company's Minneapolis power plant, Riverside, during a tour of the site. Thanks to a company camera that allows NRG to monitor the health and well-being of the nest, the eagles can be viewed on the Internet. The Web site is often visited by wildlife preservationists, according to a presidential spokesman.

Meri was accompanied on his visit by Estonian Ambassador to the United States Sven Jurgenson and presidential foreign affairs adviser Toivo Klaar.

NRG Energy is the eighth largest energy concern in the United States.