Aidu wind farm brothers defiant on turbines

Ongoing work at the proposed Aidu wind farm in eastern Estonia.
Ongoing work at the proposed Aidu wind farm in eastern Estonia. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

Two businessmen brothers behind a wind farm project which has been the subject of a long-running legal battle say they are ready to go to court over an injunction from a consumer body which prevents them continuing work. The issue has brought in comment from three different ministries; the two brothers, Andres and Oleg Sõnajalg, have also found an ally in finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE).

The Sõnajalgs say that postponing the wind farm's construction, at Aidu in Ida-Viru County, further, as requested by economic affairs minister Taavi Aas (Centre) is out of the question.

"We have invested tens of millions in this, including money from banks and financial institutions. Do you think we'll wait four to five years to get our hands on this? No, never," said Andres Sõnajalg on ETV current affairs show Aktuaalne kaamera Wednesday evening.

"No matter what may come, we'll put these turbines up. We are prepared to go all the way, including to the court, if the TTJA should make any illegal injunctions," Sõnajalg continued.

Andres and Oleg Sõnajalg Source: ERR

As reported on ERR News, the brothers and their company, Eleon, have found an ally in finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE), who says the Sõnajalgs are being harassed by the authorities, particularly over the height of the proposed turbines and the dimensions of their blades, at Aidu, which already exceed limits the defense ministry says should be set to prevent the turbines interfering with defense radars. New radars may provide a solution, however.

"Knowing that we have a decision to build a [new] radar; knowing that this new radar will do away with any claim that wind turbines will interfere with national defense, now try to explain to me what, other than for some trifle, might be the reason that these wind turbines have to be demolished, instead of taking on board that in a few years they might be legally used? " asked Helme, speaking on Aktuaalne kaamera.

Prime minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) announcing the coalition approval of the 2020 state budget, flanked by finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) and Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder. Autor/allikas: Ken Mürk/ERR

Officials' explanations that they are complying with the law does not convince Helme either, he says.

"Well, cheers. They are actually engaging in bullying an entrepreneur, as there is no logic in enforcing this law, plus I am not sure they are actually enforcing the law. This is malice," Helme said.

Defense ministry's view

Speaking on Aktuaalne kaamera, head of the defense ministry's investment department Andres Sang maintained that the turbines were problematic.

"The defense forces' early warning systems are being disrupted by the two wind turbines already erected; now it is a decision for the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority (TTJA) to make," Sang said.

"If we take a look, the defense ministry still believes that the threat remains and persists, then it is possible today that these wind turbines will have to be shortened," Sang continued.

Sang also said that: "This legislation does not allow for discretion, whether or not there are issues [caused by the turbines]. If there is disturbance, we cannot coordinate this. If we were to coordinate the system that might cause disturbance, we would in turn be violating the law and reducing Estonia's defense capabilities, which would be impossible and meaningless.

Consumer protection body: Helme and Kert Kingo pressured us over Aidu

The TTJA itself noted it may have to do the work of reducing the turbines' dimensions themselves, if the Sõnajalgs refused.

"If we had to order the blades to be removed and the developer does not comply, the state would be able to apply an alternative measure that is, the state removing the [turbine] blades at the expense of the developer," explained Kati Tamtik, head of TTJA's construction department, on Wednesday's Aktuaalne kaamera.

Kaur Kajak, Director General of the TTJA, says finance minister Martin Helme and former foreign trade minister Kert Kingo (EKRE) pressured him to wind up the proceedings against the Aidu wind park, at a meeting. Kajak also shared this information about the meeting and about Aidu with the prosecutor's office, but no proceedings have reportedly been initiated.

TTJA chief Kaur Kajak. Source: ERR

"Aidu is a complicated procedure: There are a lot of questions, this is very sensitive, it's a state secret and it is normal to share this information with law enforcement agencies."

Jüri Ratas: Martin Helm has my full confidence

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas rejected claims that Martin Helme had tried to affect the outcome of the Aidu saga.

"I have never felt that the Minister of Finance, Martin Helme, had somehow put pressure on a desire in favor of one or another, or any particular private company," Ratas said, speaking on Aktuaalne kaamera.

Economic affairs minister: Situation needs resolution

Minister for Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas (Centre) says the situation needs to be resolved.

Economic affairs minister Taavi Aas (Centre). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

"Here are the options, in fact: Do the Sõnajalgs build these wind turbines, i.e. provide both planning and coordinated building permits, or is there another option as we discussed across the ministries, where what I suggested to the Sõnajalgs where a new radar be purchased and ... a special plan would have to be made; We offered this to the Sõnajalgs, but unfortunately, this option did not work for them," Aas told Aktuaalne kaamera.

Justice minister: Mystified why Martin Helme rushing to Sõnajalg's defense

Justice minister Raivo Aeg (Isamaa) said Wednesday evening that he has no explanation as to why Martin Helme is defending the Sõnajalgs so vigorously.

Speaking to Aktuaalne kaamera Wednesday night, Aeg added that there was something of a boy-who-cried-wolf aspect to Helme's words.

"We have become accustomed to these and heard them before," he said.

The TTJA does not fall under the finance ministry's remit.

"We can still adequately assess the specific situation with specialists from the defense forces and the Ministry of Defense, who can clearly assess whether the wind turbines are interfering with our radars there... or not," Aeg said.

Earlier in the day, Aeg had said that the defense ministry would have to assess whether the proposed Kellavere radar would work.

Martin Helme had told daily Postimees that the Ministry of Defense has not shown concrete evidence that wind turbines are interfering with radars. 

"They say everything is a state secret. One of the state secrets I've heard is that the Kellavere radar just doesn't work," Helme told the daily.

Responding to the claims, Aeg said that: "As far as possible leakage of state secrets is concerned, this should first and foremost be assessed by defense ministry professionals."

"It seems to me that this was a throw-away comment that did not refer to specific sources, almost some sort of rumor," Aeg added.

Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg (Isamaa). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

"Naturally, if a state secret has actually been disclosed, one has to react, but whether or not classified information has been disclosed can only be judged by whoever originated the classified information," he continued, noting that the security committee meetings he had attended had not addressed the issue of the status of the Kellavere radar.

The TTJA continues to draft a precept which could oblige the Sõnajalgs to reduce the size of two already-erected wind turbines, though issues with the wind farm's development go back at least to 2016 when the issues with the turbines dimensions first arose. Issues with construction permits involving the local Lüganuse municipality, where the wind farm is located, and the Ida-Viru County governor followed in 2017.

In September this year, the Supreme Court overruled the annulment of their construction permits, which the Sõnajalgs claimed also overruled the TTJA complaint. Soon afterwards, the brothers  demanded €123.7 million in compensation for the two and a half years that work at Aidu had been halted.

Until the TTJA decision is made, the brothers will not be able to finish their two wind turbines under their current dimensions, and will not be able to generate electricity at the site.

The original Aktuaalne kaamera segments are here and here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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