VILNIUS - European Union leaders meeting at the European Council summit that ended Oct. 16 have apparently dashed the last hopes for Lithuania to find support for the postponement of the Ignalina nuclear power plant's closure at the end of next year.
The country will not, however, be left in the dark when the switch goes off, as the Council committed itself to support the creation of electric power links between the Baltics and the Nordic countries.
This agreement, says Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, is that the European Union supports whatever the most viable source of energy that can be developed in solving the problems of closing Ignalina.
At the same time Adamkus expressed his pleasure at the fact that the need to build Baltic power links was underlined in the conclusions and that it had been recognized as a priority of the European Union.
"They provided us with assurances that whatever monetary and financial support will be needed is not going to be a problem for Lithuania alone, but for the entire European Union," he said.
While discussing energy issues, the Council spoke about the energy isolation of the Baltic countries and supported the European Commission's proposal to include Baltic power link projects among EU priority projects.
Adamkus said that he had received assurances, in particular from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that other countries understood Lithuania's situation and would show solidarity and, if required, would provide support.
The European Union in this sense, says Adamkus, is assuming joint responsibility [with Lithuania] for finding solutions to the critical problems to emerge after decommissioning of the Soviet-era Ignalina plant.
Lithuania is now scrambling to find alternate sources to fill the energy gap once Ignalina shuts down, until a proposed new nuclear plant at the same site comes into operation, expected in 2015 at the earliest. Lithuania's electricity network is still connected only with the Russian grid.
The closure of Ignalina, with capacity of 1,300 MW, providing about 70 percent of the country's electricity demand, will lead to a doubling in electricity prices to consumers, considering that the majority of the country's power stations are now fuelled by expensive Russian gas.
Details of the plan to connect Latvia and Lithuania to the Swedish grid are still under debate.
Latvia's Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis opposes Vilnius' wish to build the power link between Lithuania and Sweden, reports news portal vz.lt. He says that Lithuania already has "too much responsibility" to meet, including the shutdown of old nuclear plant, construction of a new nuclear facility and the construction of a power link with Poland, and wants to see the link built to Latvia.
Lithuania's Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas however said, after a meeting with his Latvian counterpart earlier this month, the Latvians had agreed for the proposed power connection to be built between Sweden and Lithuania.
Kirkilas in Brussels says that Lithuania will soon call a meeting of Swedish, Lithuanian and the Commission's representatives to discuss the power link project and urge them to make a final decision.
Estonia has offered Lithuania up to 500 MW of electricity, reports news station LTV. Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said Lithuania "could get 100, 200 or even 500 MW of electricity easily. However, we may need additional emission allowances, which would have to be purchased at auction, meaning additional expenses for us. So we will have to negotiate the price of electricity being sold."
Estonia is connected to the Finnish grid through its Estlink undersea power cable.
Lithuanian diplomats failed to convince the European Council to add to the meeting's conclusions on authorization for the European Commission to evaluate the situation after the plant's closure. The Council believes that Lithuania is in no danger of electricity shortages, and that the Estonian offer could provide sufficient supplies in case of any emergencies during the winter.
The Commission however would provide support in the form of financial compensation to cover the increase in costs for the purchase of emission allowances and the rise in demand for Russian gas.
Lithuania has to notify the European Council of its specific plans at the next Council meeting in December.