Elering chief: PM did 10 years of Rescue Board's work in one speech

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Taavi Veskimägi on ETV morning show
Taavi Veskimägi on ETV morning show "Terevisioon". Source: ERR

Taavi Veskimägi, chair of the board of Estonian grid distributor Elering, believes Prime Minister Kaja Kallas achieved in her short television address, what the Rescue Board has been trying to accomplish in 10 years with the "Be Prepared!" (Ole Valmis!) campaign. Veskimägi explained, that Estonia will not disconnect its electricity system from Russia immediately, as this would make the cost of electricity even more expensive than it currently is.

"The Rescue Board has been running the "Ole Valmis! campaign for ten years. They have communicated this message, but everyone has just shrugged their shoulders," said Veskimägi on ETV's morning show "Terevisioon."

"Now people's (states of) preparedness have increased to a much better level, in no time. Fall storms are coming and this preparedness does not necessarily need to be connected to geopolitical risks at all," Veskimägi explained.

According to Veskimägi, last week Elering tried to communicate the need to be more vigilant due to increased risks.

"I am from Eidapere, in the countryside, and I know that storms in the fall cause power cuts, and this will continue to happen. No technical system can provide 100 percent certainty. I think the message from the prime minister was, that the risks have increased and citizens should be prepared to deal with them. With just one statement, the prime minister has done 10 years of work for the Rescue Board," Veskimägi said,

The Elering chief added, that the changing security environment in which Estonia now finds itself must still be taken into account.

"Where did this worry and confusion come from? The concern is not about the energy system, but about what is going on around us - the changing security picture. It has become worse. Our electricity system is operating in tandem with Russia and Belarus. The threat and the risk, which we have known all along, and which we have dealt with systematically since 2010, that we will be cut off from the Russian and Belarusian systems without warning, has become more likely. That is the only aspect that has changed," he said.

Veskimägi underlined, that, if Russia does disconnect Estonia from the grid, as long as there are no other major issues to deal with at the same time, the threat will be managed in such a way that customers will not even notice. Lights will not start flashing, and power outages are completely out of the question.

"However, if other threats occur at the same time, such as cyberattacks or attacks on power plants, or if thermal  plants are out of service or undergoing maintenance, our neighbors' hydro reserves are low, or planned nuclear reserves are not ready on time. Plus, we also know about the problems with gas. If several of these issues occur at the same time, perhaps temporary blackouts may happen. This risk exists, but it is rather unlikely. However, in the bigger picture, we are able to keep the lights on and homes warm."

Another reason for the prime minister's appeal, according to Veskimägi, may have been Lithuania's (ultimately cancelled) plan to test isolation from Kaliningrad, which had been due to take place on Saturday.

"On June 23, the Kaliningrad oblast, which is behind the Baltic electricity system, announced that it would carry out an isolation test. This Saturday there was supposed to be a Lithuanian isolation test, and with that, automatically comes a Kaliningrad isolation test. These two events - on June 23 and September 24 - were good training exercises for us, so that we are fully aware of the risks. But there is no reason to panic."

Veskimägi added, that Elering has been talking about the need to decouple from the Russian energy system since 2010. However, until now, society has shrugged its shoulders at the possibility, with talk instead focusing on the potential increase in costs.

"Desynchronization is possible if we invest in it. Now it has come to people's attention that it is still necessary. If the current panic subsides, this awareness is positive for the future. People will certainly ask  why are we not decoupling today. Well, because in today's circumstances, where we do not yet have synchronous compensators, this would lead to additional price increases for consumers. And this is at a time, when electricity prices are already high. We wouldn't want to do it until the time when we are ready, the costs are not so high for consumers and also the technical risks are lower," Veskimägi said.

Therefore, Veskimägi explained, it is necessary for the time being to continue working with the Russian system, while also being prepared for the possibility of being disconnected from it without prior warning.

"Our basic scenario is not that, after being disconnected by Russia, we would be like a tiny island floating in the ocean, but that we will connect to continental Europe with 6-12 hours," said Veskimägi.

On his relationship with Sutter and becoming head of Eesti Energia

Veskimägi was also a guest on Äripäev radio on Monday morning, where he commented on his relationship with current Eesti Energia CEO Hando Sutter. With Sutter set to vacate the role in the spring, Veskimägi has been touted as his potential replacement.

Veskimägi did not dispute the view that his relationship with Sutter is strained. However, he explained, that there were no personal reasons for this, simply that he and Sutter have different interests and priorities.

"We know where we are coming from. Eesti Energia is the biggest player on the and has very clear interests, whether it's to do with oil shale plants or renewable energy. And Hando stood up for those interests. But our interests, the interests of Elering, involve having a market with many players, so that others can enter it alongside Eesti Energia. It is not difficult to see, that if we want to have lots of companies in the market, but Eesti Energia wanted to maximize its own business, it is not a direct conflict as such, but different interests are coded in. If Hando leaves Eesti Energia, maybe we will become the best of friends elsewhere," Veskimägi said.

There has also been speculation in the press that Veskimägi might become the new head of Eesti Energia, once Sutter departs. However, Veskimägi remained tight-lipped on the subject, saying that no one had proposed this to him, and that he had had more important things to deal with over the last week.

"My term of office will not end until the end of 2024 (Sutter's contract as EE's CEO expires on March 31, 2023, a year and a half earlier - ed). I will set myself targets so that the work I start (now) gets done. Synchronization is a project I've been working on from the beginning, so it would be nice to see it through to the end. In terms of getting something done. For me, it's in the same category as when Estonia joined the European Union and NATO," said Veskimägi.

According to plans currently in place, Estonia's desynchronization from Russia's energy network and subsequent synchronization with continental Europe should be completed at the end of 2025.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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