RIGA - The Baltic States, widely referred to as an "energy island" for their lack of connections to Western Europe, are getting desperate for energy. With the closure of the regions only nuclear power plant on the horizon, politicians and energy experts are now stepping up measures to ensure that the three countries are able to keep their lights on.
In the run up to a planned trilateral meeting on energy concerns due to take place at the end of the month, many in the Baltics are wondering what the future might hold and where the three states might turn for new sources of power.
One of the most pressing concerns for the Baltics will be how the three countries can plug into the Nordic energy grid.
The most high-profile of these connections will certainly be the underwater cable that will link the Baltics to Sweden, dubbed Swedlink.
The 350 kilometer long cable, which was originally planned for completion in 2012, will have a capacity off 700 to 1,000 megawatts.
On March 20, the European Council approved a support plan that would see as much as 175 million euros committed to the power link. The funding for the power link will be allocated from the 5 billion euros earmarked for the bloc's energy projects and rural development.
In order to make use of the money, however, Latvia and Lithuania will have to quickly resolve the ongoing dispute over which country will host the link.
"There is agreement on the 5 billion [euros] we started talking about last December, as well as on the projects which are important to Lithuania. This means that the implementation of the Baltic-Swedish interconnection [project] has to begin by 2010, because there has to be a project to which the money can be allocated, and the money is big, 175 million euros," Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said at an EU summit on March 20.
The two countries' squabbling over where the link will fall has already led to lengthy delays in the project.
Though former Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis had been a staunch supporter of the plan to build the link to Latvia, incumbent Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis has shown more openness to the idea of Lithuania hosting the link 's but only on the condition the country open its energy market.
"As for the cable, in my opinion, the issue must not be politicized. There must be a technical assessment where the cable should be laidâ€¦ It can be a business project only provided that this is a joint project of all Baltic States and not a project of one particular country. This is the only way for the market to exist as a common energy market," Dombrovskis said.
"The Lithuanian market is not open at the moment. It is necessary therefore to talk about tariffs and administration. If tariffs are transparent and electricity can be supplied to any Baltic State, only then the cable can function," he said.
Currently, the only major connection that the Baltics have with the grid is the Estlink underwater cable that runs from Estonia to Finland. Plans are now underway for a second 100 million euro cable link from Estonia.
The main shareholder of the project is Eesti Energia with 39.9 percent of shares, while Latvenergo and Lietuvos Energija have 25 percent each. The remaining 10.1 percent is divided between Pohjolan Voima and Helsingin Energia (Finestlink).
The 635 megawatt cable is due to be completed by 2013.
Lithuania, meanwhile, is looking at building another power link, this time to Poland. The 1,000 megawatt, 237 million euro project is in the final planning stages and is expected to come online as soon as 2012.
A number of new power plants are also in the pipeline.
Lithuania plans to build a new 3,200 megawatt nuclear power plant to replace the one at Ignalina 's which produces nearly 70 percent of the country's energy 's that is scheduled for shutdown at the end of the year.
Plans to build the plant have not gone smoothly, however, as political bickering over the size, number of partners and share each country holds slowing progress. The proposed plant was further jeopardized when Estonia threatened to pull out of the project and build its own 1,000 megawatt nuclear plant.
Yet the country still has not signed any long-term contracts to secure energy sources in the time between the closure of the current plant and the construction of the new one.
Estonia is also planning to construct a new bio-mass and peat fuelled power plant in Parnu by the end of 2010. The production capacity of the power plant will be 45 megawatts of heat and 23 megawatts of electricity.
Latvia too has hinted at building a new power plant, but plans are still in the early stages. Eesti Energia has expressed interest in working with Latvenergo to build the plant, which would most likely be coal powered.
A BRIGHT FUTURE
Ludger Hovestadt has a vision of the future.
In his future, Tallinn and Riga are surrounded by energy farms that produce power for the cities. He dreams of the day that power is plentiful and clean and a time when dependence on traditional forms of energy has long since past.
And he believes that day will come within the next decade.
He says that we are surrounded by more energy than we could possibly use, and that we are on the verge of being able to harness it.
The push toward solar and other renewable forms of energy, Hovestadt says, is not an ideological discussion 's it's an economic one.
In a few short years, certainly less time than it would take to reap the benefits of a new nuclear plant, the world's reliance on fossil fuels and other types of energy drawn from the ground will be long gone. It will simply be too expensive to continue building these types of power plants and ignoring the vast atmospheric energy resources available to us.
Hovestadt is a lecturer at ETH Zurich, the prestigious Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, considered by many to be the best technical university in Europe.
He carries to interviews and meetings a small section of printed paper that holds a solar panel. Technology like this, he claims, will soon become the world standard for energy production. With less than 200,000 square kilometers of these printable cells, the world's energy concerns would vanish.
"You can print the thing that produces energy. You can print it day after day, just like a newspaper," Hovestadt told The Baltic Times.
"The technological path does not depend on resources, it depends on intellect. And this is potentially unlimited. It depends on our society," he said.
Though the Baltics certainly need to secure some kind of energy independence in the near future, it may be that buying a series of huge new power plants would simply be a bad investment.