RIGA - The so-called Baltic Ring, a project designed back in 1996 to connect northern Europe's energy systems, was brought a step closer to reality after an agreement signed last week in Warsaw.
Lithuania and Poland signed a protocol of intent to begin work that would connect their electricity transmission grids and further integrate the Baltic's' electricity grid with that of "greater Europe." The document was signed during Lithuanian Economy Minister Vytas Navickas' visit with his Polish counterpart, Piotr Wozniak, in Warsaw.
The implementation of this project will also materialize the idea of the Baltic Ring - a common free energy market based on regional energy systems around the Baltic Sea, which will ensure the safer functioning of Lithuania's energy system," Navickas said.
"After a decade of discussions we have finally made the first real step towards the integration of Lithuania's energy system into the common energy market of the European Union," Navickas said.
"Power grid operators in both countries will set up a project task group, which will analyze the economic and technical aspects of the project and give recommendations on the best approach for the implementation of the project," he added.
Still, funding for the energy bridge, which is estimated to cost about 1 billion litas (289.9 million euros), is still unclear.
Poland and Lithuania also agreed to monitor Lithuania's policy in the area of nuclear energy development and the declared EU financial commitment for the closure of Lithuania's Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant.
To be sure, whether Lithuania builds another nuclear power plant is an integral part of the Baltic Ring project. Prospects for such a plant were the focus of a meeting between Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas, and Estonia's Foreign Minister Urmas Paet in Tallinn on Sept. 26.
"Estonia is interested in the future of nuclear energy in Lithuania," Paet observed, adding that decisions needed to be made by the national power supplier Eesti Energia (Estonian Energy) "after economic gains from participation in the project are clear."
In the past, Estonian Prime Minster Ansip has given assurances of Estonia's support for all initiatives to ensure the region's energy security.
On March 8, a memorandum of intent was signed by the Energy companies of all of the Baltic states to construct a new nuclear plant at the Ignalina site. All sides are currently studying the details of cooperating in the construction of the new plant with a final decision predicted for November.
Vaitiekunas pointed out on Sept. 26 that besides Poland, Sweden and Canada have also shown interest in the Ignalina nuclear power plant project. In the past, France has also expressed interest.
With the agreement signed between Poland and Lithuania on Sept. 29, the completion of energy transmission lines between Estonia and Finland last week, and plans to lay a similar cable between Lithuania and Sweden, a future where the Baltic states are totally connected into the EU's common energy system is close to becoming a reality.
Lithuania believes that the construction of the power bridge between Poland and Lithuania could be launched in 2007 and completed in 2011. The Baltic Ring project has no predicted finish date.
The Baltic Ring began as a study between the existing members of Nordel, the body that governs co-operation between the electrical transmission system operators in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.