Storms prompt state to plan major investments into Saaremaa power grid

Power lines repair work in Saaremaa following a recent winter storm.
Power lines repair work in Saaremaa following a recent winter storm. Source: Margus Muld/ERR

While dealing with power outages on Estonia's largest island, Saaremaa, has cost state-owned grid operator Elektrilevi €1.5 million so far, this figure is set to grow.

While recent storms have been to blame, the company has also conceded that poor infrastructure quality, particularly with regard to overhead power lines, is the underlying cause, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Thursday.

Elektrilevi board member Rasmus Armas told AK that: "The vast majority of cases involved fallen branches on the lines or bent trees under the weight of ice or snow."

"Had power line corridors had been clearer … there would have been fewer outages," he went on, adding: "This is the place where investments are needed."

As to concrete sums, Armas said: "Investing €70-80 million in the islands is needed as an effective solution."

This will also take time, Armas added: "It is certainly not viable to carry it out in one or two years; there are simply not enough human resources to complete everything. While we have to maintain the pace to speed things up, this cannot be done in one year, or in the blink of an eye."

Elektrilevi representatives had on Thursday met with counterparts from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, the Rescue Board (Päästeamet), and Saaremaa Rural Municipality, in Kuresaare, Saaremaa's capital, in order to draw conclusions from the recent incidents and plan for better action in future.

Priit Saar, head of the ministry's crisis management department, said: "We have all taken on board, including at the ministry level, that supply reliability and resistance to force majeure must be boosted within the electricity networks. Investing more there is required, to negotiate how the maintenance of the lines is conducted, and whether it is possible to improve efficiency."

Saaremaa Mayor Mikk Tuisk (Terve Saaremaa electoral alliance) told AK that the dozen or so larger population centers on the island urgently need a more reliable power supply infrastructure, either in the form of underground cabling or better insulation of above ground cables.

Around 1000km of overhead lines on Saaremaa can be made weatherproof this year, AK reported, at least on the basis of pledges issued by the economic affairs ministry and by Elektrilevi.

These parties will reconvene on Saaremaa next month.

Saaremaa was hit particularly badly by Storm Birgit, in mid-December, which left well over 2,000 households without power in the immediate aftermath, and in many cases for several days. Saaremaa's official population is a little over 31,000, often swelled by both tourists and those who own second homes on the island.

The fate of Elektrilevi as an integral part of the Eesti Energia group has also been a political issue of late. The company is responsible for maintaining power lines and also hosts a power outages map on its website, updated in real time.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Barbara Oja

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