On Thursday, it was reported in the Estonian media the President of Lithuania had snubbed a gathering of Baltic presidents due to a disagreement about buying electricity from third countries and the Astravyets power plant in Belarus. ERR News asked the Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications to explain Estonia's policy on this issue.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda's spokesperson Antanas Bubnelis told BNS on Thursday the meeting was planned a long time ago and should have focused on regional security, anti-coronavirus measures, EU issues as well as the non-purchase of electricity from the Astravyets nuclear power plant.
The Belarusian power plant Astravyets is nearing completion and lies only a few kilometers from the border with Lithuania and approximately 50 km from Vilnius. Both safety and environmental concerns have been raised about the plant in the past.
The Lithuanian government has been against the construction of the power plant since it's inception and is now trying to lobby neighboring countries to boycott buying electricity from the plant.
On Friday, the Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications sent a statement to ERR News from Timo Tatar, Deputy Secretary General for Energy, which confirmed an agreement between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania has not yet been reached. The full text is below.
He said Estonia has no interest in buying electricity from Belarus and agrees with the safety concerns raised by Lithuania. Tatar said Estonia has expressed support to Lithuania many times. However, concerns an agreement will not be made between all three countries are increasing by the day as Lithuania has rejected several different versions.
He said: "There is no similar law in Estonia which bans electricity imports/trade from specific power plants in foreign countries. Such regulations are highly unusual." Latvia does not have a law similar to this either.
He also said these discussions should have been held years ago, but then Lithuania was lobbying for different rules. "Frankly, it is really hard to keep up with all the dynamic changes," Tatar said.
As for a solution to the disagreement, he said: "We sincerely believe that the technical agreement, as well as accompanying energy ministers declaration, are allowing us to implement all those goals and lets us focus on completing the synchronization project on time and on budget."
Vilnius sees the Astravyets plant as both environmentally unsafe and a potential way for the Russian Federation to pressure Belarus, which shares a border with both Lithuania and Latvia. The plant has been built close to the Neris River which flows from Belarus to Vilnius and Kaunas meaning a future accident could contaminate the water supply. The government has even handed out Potassium iodide pills to neighboring municipalities ahead of the power plant's launch as a precaution.
The three Baltic States are decoupling from the Russian and Belarusian electricity grids and will synchronize their systems with those of the EU by 2025. Until then electricity imports from the two countries – which are often cheaper as they are not subject to EU emissions taxes – will still enter all three countries, either directly or indirectly, as well as reaching the Finnish market.
The three presidents of the Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were supposed to meet in Kuressaare on the island of Saaremaa on Thursday, June 25. Nauseda pulled out of the event last minute and only the presidents of Latvia and Estonia attended.
Full statement from Deputy Secretary General for Energy Timo Tatar:
"The negotiations on the technical agreement of the common Baltic methodology regarding trading capacities between Baltic States and third countries and an energy ministers declaration which is supposed to be accompanying the technical agreement have not yet been finalized.
"Although not much progress has been achieved during the last couple of weeks. Different versions (proposed by European Commission and by Estonia) of a declaration have been rejected by Lithuania and concerns that there will be no common methodology regulating the electricity trade within the Baltic states as well as between the Baltic States and third countries are increasing day by day.
"The timing of this matter is very unfortunate, as Baltic TSO's (Transmission system operators - ed.) have just recently submitted their investment request to the European Commission for the second stage of Baltic states synchronization. Making this the worst timing to demonstrate our indifferences in public.
"There is no specific interest in Estonia to buy electricity from Belarus.
"Estonia shares the concern expressed by Lithuania regarding nuclear safety thus expects nuclear power plants to be safe and meet all international requirements.
"We have expressed our support to Lithuania on this matter numerous times in different EU formats.
"However, there is no similar law in Estonia which bans electricity imports/trade from specific power plants in foreign countries. Such regulations are highly unusual. Moreover, such arrangements, regulating trade with specific third countries, fall usually in the competence of the European Commission.
"It must be also noted that the technical implementation of such a regulation in a common electricity system (like BRELL) is extremely difficult as technical flows follow laws of physics. The only effective solution to minimize the third country exposure is to accelerate the Baltic synchronization project.
"Lithuania is following its law and the negotiations so far have served the purpose to assist Lithuania in doing so. But it must be noted that a non-binding ministers declaration accompanying the technical agreement does not change the fact that there is no such law in place in Estonia nor in Latvia regarding unsafe third country powerplants.
"Those discussions involving the European Commission should have been held a couple of years ago, not now. But back then, Lithuania was trying to convince Estonia and Latvia, that maintaining a priority trade corridor (200 MW) between Belarus and Lithuania was absolutely necessary to ensure its security of supply. Frankly, it is really hard to keep up with all the dynamic changes.
"The international agreements have to honor all countries laws and EU internal market regulations in a similar manner. Therefore, right now, we can only assist Lithuania in finding a solution on how to make their laws, the laws of other countries and EU internal energy market regulations work in harmonized manner. We sincerely believe that the technical agreement, as well as accompanying energy ministers declaration, are allowing to implement all those goals and lets us focus on completing synchronization project on time and on budget."
You can read more about regional energy politics in the International Center for Defence and Security's report "Winds of Change, or More of the Same?"
Editor: Helen Wright