TALLINN - The Estonian government has decided to take the European Commission to court over a decision to reduce the Baltic state's quota for industrial carbon dioxide emissions over the next five years.
At their Cabinet session on July 12, ministers discussed the commission's decision to give Estonia an annual quota of 12.7 million tons of carbon dioxide emission for 2008 - 2012. Initially the country had asked for a quota of 24 million tons.
The government passed a decision to file suit in European courts to contest the commission's decision.
The center-right government believes that in determining the amount of permitted emissions for Estonia the commission based its decision on incorrect premises and exceeded its competence.
Nearly 70 percent of Estonia's domestic energy needs are produced by burning oil shale, a fossil fuel, which has left the Baltic state highly dependent on a carbon dioxide-producing fuel.
Prior to joining the EU in 2004, the government agreed to phase out the shale oil plants by 2016, but until then it wants to maximize use of the industry, even more so now that any viable alternative would entail increasing dependence on Russia.
Estonian ministers claim that the so-called PRIMES model used by the commission is based on a presumption that Estonia will increase use of natural gas in electricity production several-fold. The model used by the commission also treats shale as equal to brown coal despite the fact that 0.6 percent less carbon dioxide is emitted in the production of electricity from oil shale.
At the same time, the choice of sources of energy is the prerogative of each individual member state, and the commission cannot issue any orders in that respect, the government argued.
Valdur Lahtvee, an MP from the opposition Green Party, agrees that the European Commission has made an error in calculating the carbon dioxide emissions quota for Estonia for the next five years.
He told the Baltic News Service that the model, devised in Greece, contained an egregious error.
"A coefficient used in that model is linked to the economic behavior of a country. In Estonia's case, it has been presumed that over the period 2008 - 2012 there will be a major transition to the use of co-generating stations using natural gas for energy production," explained Lahtvee, a former environment executive at Eesti Energia, Estonia's state-owned energy utility.
"Firstly, gas is not easy to get, and Estonia has no wish at all to increase its dependence on Russian energy," Lahtvee argued. "Secondly, these stations cannot be built in such a short a period of time, even if one had money for it."
The European Commission found that in 2005 member states had been allocating overly large quotas to businesses, as a result of which the price of greenhouse gas quotas, traded openly between member states, dropped on the market.
Now the commission wants to reduce the 2008 - 2012 emission quotas for a number of countries, notably East European members.
Lahtvee said that even though it was likely that an out-of-court settlement would be reached with the commission, the eventual quota for Estonia would end up being less than 20 million tons.
Meanwhile, a top energy official said Estonia already meets the 20 percent minimum requirement on renewable sources, another key component of the EU's strategic environment program.
Einari Kisel, chief of the energy department at the Economy Ministry, said that, according to the basic guidelines to be soon completed by the commission, the 20 percent requirement is calculated on the basis of actual final consumption, leaving aside exports of electricity and other kinds of energy as well as losses in networks and power generating plants.
"It's a matter of numbers 's in Estonia one usually talks only about the share of renewable [sources] in the production of electricity, but actually one should look at the overall picture 's electricity, heat and fuel, but also home heating and transport," Kisel said.
As a result, in Estonia the share of renewable energy is already close to 20 percent, Kisel said.
Judging by these standards, Estonia also ranks among the five countries using renewable energy the most in the EU.
"Latvia, Finland and Sweden are ahead of us. Estonia is approximately at the same level with Austria, ranking fourth or fifth," Kisel said. "Latvia has a wide lead thanks to the production of hydro energy 's their ratio [of renewable energy] is about 40 percent."
Finland and Sweden have it somewhere close to 30 percent, and Estonia and Austria at close to 20 percent.
Since on the basis of these calculations Estonia effectively has already surpassed the goal set by the EU for 2020, the country will in great probability set its goal higher than the targeted EU average for that period, the official added.