Minister of Finance Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform) submitted a bill to the Estonian government for the initiation of a national designated spatial plan for the electrical connections of an offshore wind farm in the Gulf of Riga. Both Utilitas and Eesti Energia are interested in building offshore wind farms in the gulf; the spatial plan is to explore the latter's connections.
State-owned energy group Eesti Energia is planning an offshore wind farm in the Gulf of Riga which it wants to link up to Estonia's primary onshore grid. Eleri Kautlenbach, adviser on national designated spatial plans at the Ministry of Finance's Regional Administration Department, explained that electrical connections will have to be planned both for sea and for land.
"This is done by cable in the sea, and the plan should provide answers regarding whether it will be done on land by cable, by overhead line or both cable and overhead line," Kautlenbach said.
This powerful of an overhead line would require a danger zone clearance of 40 meters to either side.
AS Utilitas is likewise interested in building an offshore wind farm in the Gulf of Finland. As the potential future wind farms are located next to one another, Utilitas and Eesti Energia had been cooperating on the matter as recently as late last year. The two companies submitted a request to the government to draw up a joint spatial plan that would address both companies' electrical connections at once. This would have also meant splitting the cost of the plan down the middle as well.
When the time came this spring to sign the contract, however, Utilitas nonetheless started to reconsider, and ultimately announced it wanted to untie its plan from that of Eesti Energia. According to Kautlenbach, this means that electrical connections are now only being planned for Eesti Energia's future wind farm.
"And we're taking Utilitas' plans into consideration as much as possible during this planning process, but right now we're not designing separate electricity connections for them," the ministry official said.
Two separate spatial plans possible
Strictly speaking, a national designated spatial plan isn't required for the planning of electrical connections, meaning that Utilitas may go for other planning methods as well.
"It can't be ruled out that at some point it will be done as a national designated spatial plan as well," Kautlenbach said. "But that will become clear in the future."
Two separate spatial plans could at some stage be combined together as well. But it's also possible that two separate spatial plans will end up being drawn up concurrently.
"This will require very good communication then, so that on one hand, the public understands what, when, why and how things will be done," the ministry adviser explained. "And on the other, we ourselves have to be skillful enough to produce a comprehensive layout across two planning processes."
How much drawing up a spatial plan will cost, the Ministry of Finance is unable to say; the cost depends to a significant extent on what exactly needs to be examined. The ministry did, however, say that the planning process could take up to six years, much of which would be spent on impact assessments and related studies.
"The structures we're planning will remain in our space for a very long time," Kautlenbach said. "Which is why a comprehensive spatial solution needs to be drawn up and various parties involved, and why we need to carefully consider what should be planned where."
Looking for faster solutions
There has been talk for quite some time about the need to pick up the pace on renewable energy-related planning. Even the recently signed Reform-Isamaa-SDE coalition agreement stipulates that the processing of nationally significant and cross-border projects, including environmental impact assessments, should take no more than three years' time.
The European Commission recently unveiled an even more ambitious plan. RePowerEU, a proposal introduced in response to Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine earlier this year and aimed at accelerating the green transition and ending the union's reliance on Russian fossil fuels before the decade is out, includes a target of renewable energy-related project planning not taking more than two years.
Kautlenbach acknowledged that the planning process should indeed be sped up, noting that the Government Office is in charge of brainstorming on the subject.
"I think shorter deadlines will mean legislative changes," she said. "Personally, I hope we'll have an initial plan of sorts by fall or winter that we can continue to build on."
The European Commission wants to map out areas where no restrictions would apply.
"If such locations are screened out, then we can expect that those locations won't have any significant environmental impacts, nor will they have significant impacts on people either," the ministry adviser said. "Once this mapping is done, then it will be easier to draw up plans with shorter deadlines in these locations."
Editor: Aili Vahtla