Samost and Sildam criticized unwillingness to address price of electricity

Toomas Sildam and Anvar Samost.
Toomas Sildam and Anvar Samost. Source: ERR

Journalists Anvar Samost and Toomas Sildam talked about the recent electricity price hike and criticized relevant comments by politicians and head of Elering Taavi Veskimägi that they found arrogant on the "Samost ja Sildam" talk show.

"I do not believe we have seen a disaster, but it is also clear that the price of electricity quadrupling in a single year is not normal. Warnings have been around for 10-15 years and the hikes will take no one who has kept half an eye on the electricity market and prices by surprise. And then we get the CEO of the company charged with making sure Estonia has sufficient power links [Taavi Veskimägi – ed.] – which includes the criteria of affordability in addition to supply security – saying the new price is no big deal," Samost said.

The hosts played a recording of Veskimägi's comment where the energy company executive gives an example of a five euro household electricity bill and says that the family can afford it even if the bill is doubled or tripled.

Sildam remarked that Veskimägi seems to be unaware there are people in Estonia for whom a difference of 10 euros before payday is considerable. "That is the reality today, instead of suggesting paying an extra five or ten euros is nothing."

Sildam also stressed private consumers are not the only ones affected. "Thinking about ballooning costs in manufacturing, industry – how will it translate into product prices and manifest for consumers in a situation where inflation is already considerable," he said.

Samost added that Veskimägi later indirectly apologized for his claim.

He described Veskimägi's claim that a higher electricity price is nothing compared to natural disasters accompanying climate change, such as forest fires or flooding, as demagogic and even cynical.

"Why should the Estonian power consumer – no matter their financial situation – pay for the failure of Californian authorities to avoid forest fires or Germany failing to put in place measures to avoid damage from major flooding on the local government level," Samost said. "Suggesting the Estonian electricity consumer has to pay more to avoid forest fires is the peak of arrogance! That is no way to present the equation," he added.

Samost said politicians have also made statements on the topic that beg the question of whether they realize who has to pay power bills in Estonia or "whether anyone even lives outside Kalamaja and Kadriorg."

He said Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) and European Commissioner Kadri Simson's (Center) view that people who cannot pay their electricity bill should apply for subsistence benefit from their local government was peculiar.

The host said unfortunate decisions made in the EU and Estonia in the past decades have pushed the price of electricity to its current level and that the development was anticipated.

"Instead of trying to solve this self-made problem, we tell people that while we have made a couple of miscalculations with ramifications for decades to come, you should go and apply for subsistence benefit. I mean really!" Samost said. "This from the European commissioner for energy," he added.

Samost remarked Simson's comments on how the duty on electricity should be lowered to protect consumers a decade ago when Center was in opposition.

"Looking at the price of electricity today, I have wondered whether and when Estonian politicians plan to change their tune regarding oil shale energy. In other words, whether we will see less categorical demands to turn our back on oil shale looking at the price of power," Sildam said.

Samost said, at the risk of being crude, that "pain by proxy usually brings back common sense."

He also pointed to the fact several blocks of the Eesti Energia oil shale power plants have been fired up this week courtesy of the "sky-high price of electricity caused by the faulty quota system." Samost said power usage restrictions could not be ruled out without said capacity.

"The sensible thing to do would be to maintain the capacity to produce energy locally for as long as possible as next to our own consumers, we are also responsible for the whole Baltic region," the journalist said, pointing to the possibility of existing renewable energy capacity falling short should there be no wind, no sunshine and not enough water in hydroelectric power plant reservoirs.

Samost also pointed to new restrictions for Russian power on the Baltic market, suggesting that Russia refusing to maintain the transmission network frequency in the Baltic region would make the Narva power plants the only facility capable of taking over, making the issue one of national security to overshadow even the coronavirus crisis.

The currently tripled price of electricity could force the European Union to change its emissions trading system that is one of the reasons for high prices and the faulty nature of which has been criticized by some politicians, Samost suggested.

"Should it become a topic at the next European Council meeting, it will be interesting to see Estonia's stance going in," Sildam said, adding the Riigikogu European Union Affairs Committee would have to discuss it first.

Samost also said that parties failed to present fundamental positions on the green turn and energy leading up to 2019 elections, with only the coalition agreement of the Reform Party and Center Party including two relevant promises.

"We're looking at a barren wasteland when it comes to political responsibility here," he said.

The host said that CEO of private oil shale chemistry company Viru Keemia Grupp (VKG) Ahti Asmann has urged politicians to draw up a law that lists all the effects of the green turn to give entrepreneurs certainty moving forward. "It will be interesting to see parties respond," he noted.

Samost said that it is one thing to support the Commission's climate turn proposals in theory and quite another to start passing restrictions to that effect in Estonia.

"Voting for legislation banning companies from selling consumers a two-liter diesel station wagon starting in 2030 will probably make more than a few politicians consider how many of their voters find such a vehicle to be indispensable," he reasoned. Similar dilemmas would be raised regarding forestry and agriculture, Samost added.

Asked by Sildam whether the 2023 coalition agreement will include that oil shale energy will not be used 11 years from now (2035 – ed.) (as suggested by the current coalition agreement), Samost said he does not believe so. "Knowing Estonian politicians, I believe the coalition agreement or platform will include something even less concrete," he said.

The hosts also talked about the list of cultural objects of national significance, President Kersti Kaljulaid's recent Riigikogu speech and local government election lists.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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