RIGA - The bitterly cold winds that tear across the Baltic Sea have so far brought Estonia little but deadly winter storms and ships full of invaders.
Though the country has used windmills for centuries to help with milling and water pumping, the powerful gusts that buffet Estonia's coast have never been harnessed for any large scale business venture 's until now.
Estonia has become one of Europe's hottest spots for investors looking to set up windfarms. A number of large scale projects are in the pipeline, and the Estonian government is doing all it can to help urge the blooming industry along.
"In Estonia [wind energy] is, of course, the number one resource for alternative energy," Jaan Tepp, chairman of the Estonian Wind Power Association (EWPA), told The Baltic Times.
"We are surrounded on almost three sides by water massesâ€¦ Our wind resources are excellent. Our living density is low, and that is why people are really interested in developing renewable energy," he said.
According to a report from Statistics Estonia released earlier this year, in November the production of wind energy was up by about 80 percent year-on-year.
Foreign investors and the Estonian government are pouring billions of kroons into developing the resource. With wind turbine technology improving and the market price of energy on the rise, many feel that now is the perfect time to grab a slice of the alternative energy pie.
The Estonian Development Fund announced on Jan. 13 that it would buy a 21 percent stake in wind turbine technology developer Goliath Wind to help spur on the company's research goals. Goliath is working on developing a wind turbine generator that would reduce expenses by 15 to 20 percent, drastically improving the financial viability of windfarm projects.
Moreover, Tepp said that Eesti Energia, the state-owned power company, is looking into developing approximately 100 megawatts worth of turbines 's which would roughly double the current amount of wind energy in the country.
Estonia at present gets 2-3 percent of its electricity supply from wind parks and alternative energy sources, but the share of renewable energy sources should rise to 25 percent by 2020 according to the development plan. Most of the green energy would come from wind turbines.
But that is just the beginning.
The largest and most high profile of the upcoming windfarm projects on the drawing board is in Hiiumaa, Estonia's second largest island in the Baltic Sea.
The Canada based Greta Energy is looking into plans to build a 1,000 megawatt offshore windfarm. According to its Web site, the company is also planning a 500 megawatt offshore windfarm in Purtse and a 300 megawatt farm on Hiiumaa Island itself.
The Hiiumaa offshore project, which would see about 250 turbines erected off the coast of the island, would reportedly cost 6 to 7 billion kroons. Energy produced by the new farm would be exported to Sweden.
It would be one of the largest windfarms in Europe.
AIR OF DISCONTENT
Not everyone is happy about the Hiiumaa windfarm project. At the beginning of the year, residents of the island launched a signature gathering campaign aimed at putting a stop to the development.
Locals have raised a number of concerns over the project. The primary worry raised by critics of the project is that it would have a detrimental effect on tourism and the surrounding wildlife.
"We the islanders are usually very tolerant and don't go easily along with campaigns, but this time it is our homes that are being targeted. If these wind generators are erected, it would spoil the local nature to the extent that it could not be restored. People are very active," Kristi Ugam, the initiator of the signature campaign, was quoted by Baltic Business News as saying.
Resident's have also said that they are suspicious of the motives of Greta Energy. The company's president, Victor Belilovskiy, and director, Iouri Stepanov, are both wealthy Russian businessmen who hold degrees from prominent Moscow universities. Former Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded Beliloviskiy with a medal "for his work and contribution to the Russian Federation" in 2005 and 2006.
Now many island residents are openly expressing concerns that the project is just another way for Russia to take advantage of the Baltic state.
Yet another concern raised over the proposed windfarm is its effect on Estonian military bases. Critics have said that the turbines could disrupt military radars.
The Estonian Defense Ministry is drafting a set of laws that would require any windfarm to have its approval before getting the go-ahead.
Tepp said, however, that the ministry had been more than accommodating over the issue, and had eventually agreed with the EWPA that each windfarm would be considered on an individual basis.
"Happily, after long meetings, we understood each other that we should approach [the issue] on a case by case scenario looking at the impact of a farm on an existing or planned station," he said.
Ulo Parnits, Estonian businessman who is a shareholder in the venture, told Eesti Paevaleht earlier this year that the wind would eventually be used, and implied that misguided critics would ultimately not be able to stop technological progress.
"The winds on Hiiumaa will sooner or later be taken into use. There was also a lot of opposition against the first car, but the progress continued in spite of that," he said.
Parnits and Tepp were both also sure to stress that the project is still in the planning phase, and that no date has yet been set to begin construction on the windfarm.
THE PRICE OF POWER
Economic analysts have voiced their own concerns over Estonia's increasing reliance on wind power.
At the end of last year, Anto Raukas, a senior researcher with the Institute of Geology of the Tallinn Technical University, said that renewable energy sources will at least double the price of electricity.
He said that the increased energy prices would hit the agriculture industry the hardest.
"Expensive electricity will be the death knell of agriculture," he was quoted by the Baltic News Service as saying.
But these concerns may be outweighed by Estonia's need to balance its current account deficit.
Statistics Estonia reported that in November, the amount of imported electricity had increased by a staggering 650 percent year-on-year 's exports, meanwhile, increased by only 1.94 percent year-on-year.
With an economy that is due to get worse before it gets better, Estonia may be faced with no choice but to increase energy production to at least help make a dent in the current account deficit.
â€¢ Average land wind speed in Estonia is four to five meters per second.
â€¢ On Hiiumaa, the average wind speed is 6.8 meters per second.
â€¢ Turbines already in place in the country work at maximum capacity when windspeeds are at 14 meters per second.
â€¢ Estonia currently gets 2-3 percent of its power from wind energy.
â€¢ The current energy development plan would see that number increased to 25 percent by 2020.
â€¢ Denmark, famous for its windmills, has captured 62 percent of the world market for wind turbines.
â€¢ In the EU as a whole, fossil fuels account for nearly 79 percent (41 percent oil, 22 percent gas and 16 percent coal and peat) and nuclear energy for about 15 percent of the EU's final energy consumption; the remaining 6 percent of energy is obtained from renewable sources
â€¢ 80 percent of the EUs renewable energy comes from large hydroelectric power stations that are not considered environment-friendly.