Tootsi wind farm case put on hold, passed on to ECJ

Electricity sub-station on the Tootsi property in Pärnu County.
Electricity sub-station on the Tootsi property in Pärnu County. Source: Verner Vilgas/ERR

A court decision on a controversial planned wind farm in southwest Estonia due for Tuesday has been put on hold while the matter is handed over the the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for a preliminary ruling. The development is the latest stage in a long-running legal dispute, principally concerning whether the project qualified for aid or not.

The second-tier Tallinn Administrative Court told ERR that it had struck off its deadline for announcing the decision in the case of the Tootsi wind farm and has resumed proceedings, while asking parties for their views on the suspension of the case – due to the court's referral of the case to the ECJ.

The project is operated by the state-owned Eesti Energia.

A year ago virtually to the day, Eesti Energia announced its plans to sue grid distributor Elering over its decision discontinue a support scheme for the planned wind-farm, in Tootsi, Pärnu County.

Eesti Energia picked up the 160-hectare plot at auction, organized by state forestry commission the RMK in February 2020, for €51.5 million, over four times the opening asking price.

At stake is whether a wind farm which is not yet completed and operating should receive the level of support Tootsi had been getting up to that point.

The reason for the suspension of proceedings is the referral of the administrative court to the ECJ.

Eesti Energia and Elering have until January 28 to express their views on the suspension of the proceedings, after which the administrative court will decide whether or not to do so.

The administrative court had already appealed to the ECJ earlier this month in relation to a similar dispute involving the private sector Est Wind Power OÜ and Elering. The court both shelved proceedings and referred the matter to the ECJ.

Elering is involved in two other cases, one where an October 2020 decision involving Adepte Group OÜ is being appealed to the court, again suspended until the entry into force of an ECJ judgement; the other case sees another company, Warmeston OÜ, taking out a suit against Elering – this case is still active.

In all three cases, at stake in the dispute is the payment, or rather non-payment, of support for renewables, also the issue at the heart of the Eesti Energia case.

The administrative court is seeking an ECJ preliminary ruling on various technicalities, including terminology such as "start of works" and "commencement of investment-related construction".

The Eesti Energia appeal rose after Elering declined to provide support on the basis of "older" wind farms, constructed before 2017.

Elering argued that as of the end of 2016, the wind farm had not yet met the conditions for receiving the support, meaning it was not eligible for support of €53.7 per MWh based on the market price paid for by consumers.

Last month, the prime minister told ERR she had instructed Elering and Eesti Energia to shelve the dispute, in the interests of boosting the share of renewables in the electricity market.

38 of the 40 cadastral units at the property, in Metsaküla, Põhja-Pärnumaa municipality, about 30km from Pärnu City and 120km from Tallinn, are set aside for wind turbines, with the other two allocated for wind-speed gauging towers.

Many wind farm projects in Estonia have been beset with legal issues, with the Aidu wind farm, in Ida-Viru County, operated by brothers Oleg and Andres Sõnajalg, and the nearly 12-year-old dispute surrounding the Neugrund planned offshore wind-farm, off the northwest coast, being two of the highest-profile cases. Most of these have involved private sector firms, however, while the Tootsi case as noted represented a clash between two state bodies.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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