Neugrund offshore windfarm standoff turns ten years old ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

An offshore wind farm. Photo is illustrative.
An offshore wind farm. Photo is illustrative. Source: (Nuon/Creative Commons)

An impasse on the construction of a proposed windfarm off the northwest coast of Estonia has now reached its 10th anniversary with no sign of imminent resolution. The site, east of the island of Osumussaar and within the Neugrund meteorite crater, is both under environmental protection and faces opposition from the defense ministry, who say wind turbines there would interfere with its radar.

In spring 2010, Neugrund OÜ applied for a permit to build an offshore windfarm on the shoal of the same name, but faced opposition from the Ministry of Defense, which says that the activities of both military radar at the Ämari Air Base, home to NATO Baltic air policing aircraft, and ship-to-air firing practice, would be jeopardized by the appearance of tall (150-200-meter) wind turbines.

The radar issue has also dogged another private initiative in Ida-Viru County, where businessmen brothers Andres and Oleg Sõnajalg have been involved in a protracted attempt to get a land-based windfarm constructed at Aidu.

Ministry of Defense opposed

Last year, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications provided some hope for developers by noting that it was not clear what the impact of the wind farm would be on military exercises, adding that in the light of EU climate neutrality objectives, areas suitable for offshore wind farms should not be wholly abandoned.

Lawyer Olavi-Jüri Luik, representing the Neugrund, says his clients are not satisfied that the state has so far been unable to make a decision on the application for a building permit, submitted as noted in spring 2010.

"Today we are in April 2020. For an unprecedented ten years, the Estonian state has not been able to resolve the building permit application. If we got a negative decision, we could at least go to court. Had there been a positive decision, the construction of the offshore wind farm would already be underway."

Luik added that if the Ministry of Defense continues to block the project, Neugrund is ready to file a claim for damages against the state. Luik could not state a precise figure on what these might be, but said it was likely to be around a million euros.

Area also a nature reserve

Back in 2015, ERR News reported about plans the Environmental Board (Keskonnaamet) had to establish a nature reserve covering the area, including the Neugrund meteorite crater, whose diameter is around 9 kilometers.

Olavi-Jüri Luik told ERR this week that the location was nonetheless the best place in Estonia to build a wind farm.

"It is possible to build a wind farm there about 16 kilometers off-shore, where the water is so shallow it is more-or-less knee-deep."

"Construction costs would essentially be the same as onshore wind farms, and it would be possible to sell electricity [generated by the turbines] to the Nordic countries," Luik added.

The proposed windfarm would have a little under 40, 150-200-meter high turbines, which would generate up to 380 MW of power.

Luik said the state was aware of the developer's interest in the area and enquired why the area had also been chosen for military firing exercises. 

Developers: Best location, defense ministry: Only location for live firing

Andres Sang, Head of the defense investment department of the Ministry of Defense, told ERR that such exercises cannot be done elsewhere in the country, adding the area has been in use for about 20 years.

"Such an exercise entails a very large danger zone and could not be accommodated anywhere else in Estonian coastal waters. It is the only place in Estonia where this type of activity can be carried out at all, meaning this exercise area is one that we cannot give up. We have been conducting exercises there since 2000," Sang said.

Olavi-Jüri Luik said his client is ready to contribute to the financing of an additional radar system, and pointed out that the state negotiated a similar agreement with the state-owned Eesti Energia and [now Eesti Energia subsidiary] Nelja Energia in 2009, for the construction of the Paldiski wind farm, just along the coast from Neugrund.

However, Sang said that additional radar would not solve the firing exercise issue.

"Even if the radar issue can be solved financially, albeit by behaving financially unreasonably, there is no way to compensate for the training area. I don't see any possibility, from a national defense point of view, that we can allow this wind farm to be built there," he said.

A press conference held last December by private sector wind farm developers, including Neugrund and the Sõnajalg brothers, had also raised the issue. That time, Olavi-Jüri Luik said the project was already 13 years old and had been hamstrung by obstructions throughout that time.

Developers' main concern was what they called a state monopoly on the sector.

The Neugrund meteorite struck the earth's surface in what is now the northwest coast of Estonia around 535 million years ago, according to estimates. The area is now in the Nõva municipality in Lääne County. The ensuing geological fault caused by the meteorite, which was estimated at around a kilometer in diameter, stretches 21 kilometers in length.

The more well-known Kaali crater on Saaremaa is far more recent and was caused by a meteorite strike mid-way through the second millennium BC, when the area was already settled by Estonians or their progenitors. It spans a little over 100 meters in diameter.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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