The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications has issued guidelines to transmission system operator (TSO) Elering for planning a 330-kilovolt transmission line to Saaremaa. This decision was anticipated by both developers of offshore wind farms in the area as well as business owners on the Western Estonian island, which is currently already hampered by insufficient capacity for linking solar parks to the grid.
Bringing a 330-kilovolt high-voltage electricity transmission line to Saaremaa would be a lengthy and expensive process — in the ballpark of around ten years and to the tune of hundreds of millions of euros. Nonetheless, both Saaremaa business owners and offshore wind farm developers consider it a vital move.
"Quotes currently being issued by [network operator] Elektrilevi are amounting to €1 million and even beyond," said Saaremaa Entrepreneurs' Association (SEL) director Fred Siimpoeg.
"Our local business owners are actually losing out tremendously in competition compared with what the mainland has," stressed Mikk Tuisk, mayor of Saaremaa Municipality.
"This is where you have to make a decision — we want life on Saaremaa to be sustainable," he continued. "Life is increasingly switching over to [being powered by] electricity; from that perspective alone already we actually have to start increasing those capacities here. I would treat this as typical state infrastructure, meaning it's like a highway — that it is up to the state to build it so that life can exist here."
The ball is now in motion, and Elering is being given guidelines by the state to start seeking solutions for building the high-voltage transmission line to Saaremaa.
"Now it's truly clear that Elering will be tasked with planning such a line to Saaremaa," said Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Riina Sikkut (SDE). "This isn't a matter of ensuring security of supply today or tomorrow, but rather that the network and network developments keep up with the state's strategic decisions as well."
"We're currently handling preparatory work," Elering board member Kalle Kilk said. "We're researching alternative routes; that isn't resource intensive. Then once money needs to start being invested at one point, this guideline will have to be a bit more concrete."
Kilk acknowledged that this is a bit of a unique project in Estonian terms.
"We've built quite a lot of overhead transmission lines on land — which is easy, we know how to do, how much it costs and what technical solutions it requires," he explained. "But if we now need to go onto Saaremaa with a 330-kilovolt line, then obviously that would be a bit more complicated. Over or under the sea, and then on site there on Saaremaa as well. This could easily be in the €200-800 million range."
As developers at this stage are being offered a power connection via a substation in Lihula instead and the construction of such a transmission line by businesses wouldn't fit in their business model, the undersea cables in question may end up linking Estonia's biggest island to another country altogether instead.
"Everyone has at least solemnly sworn that they'd like to connect in Saaremaa," Tuisk said. "And they've taken connection conditions from Elering, and to date, they've all been via Lihula. If this 330-kilovolt line to Saaremaa doesn't come from the state, then those cables — as far as I've sat down together with various business owners, it won't fit in their business model in any way, shape or form, meaning it would be smarter for them to build these wind farms somewhere else."
Editor: Aili Vahtla