Former Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Riina Sikkut (SDE) opposed VKG's plans to construct a new oil shale mine by refusing to approve the construction of a substation required to operate the mine earlier this spring. However, the new climate minister, Kristen Michal (Reform), granted the requisite approval, removing this barrier to the mine's development.
The then-minister of economic affairs and infrastructure, Riina Sikkut (SDE), said in March that she would not grant Elering the necessary approval for the construction of the Uus-Kivili mine substation on the grounds that opening new oil shale mines during the green revolution would be counterproductive. This was unexpected for the developers; the mine cannot be opened without the substation.
A clause ruling out the opening of new oil shale mines was also included in the coalition agreement. Referring to the fact that VKG and Enefit Power, which are developing the Uus-Kiviõli oil shale mine, already have been issued with a mining permit, the now climate minister, Michal, still gave the missing approval.
According to the minister, establishing clear national timelines for exiting the oil shale industry is essential.
"The coalition wants to set deadlines for oil shale extraction, and this is what we are doing with the climate legislation, which is a sort of umbrella law. Before that, most likely this fall, a new version of the Earth Resources Act will be introduced to the state legislature and then we will be able to debate until what year oil shale can be used at all," Michal said, adding that the government's work plan, approved on Thursday, sets October as the deadline for the Earth Resources Act to be introduced to the parliament.
Enefit Power said that it will not require the Uus-Kiviõli oil shale over the next ten years because its Narva quarry and Estonia mine reserves are sufficient.
VKG plans to transport the first tons of raw material from Uus-Kiviõli to the surface as early as 2025, as reserves at their Ojamaa mine are depleting. Despite delays in the permitting process, the new mine is expected to open within two years.
"Coordination, which should normally take no more than 30 days, has been extended now to six months but an entrepreneur must work within the given constraints," Ahti Asmann, the head of VKG, said. "The good news is that Elering can now proceed with the project and begin the public procurement process, so we are making every effort to meet the deadline."
"I sincerely hope that the political drama surrounding this issue is over. I have the impression that our company became entangled in a number of contentious political conflicts. Fortunately, however, the company, government officials and the minister all behaved in accordance with Estonian laws and regulations and everything was processed properly while keeping the ideals of a sustainable economy in mind. There was no other choice but to go ahead with the project," Asmann added.
VKG will invest around €100 million in the Uus-Kiviõli oil shale mine. Two sedimentation basins have been constructed in the Lüganuse municipality's settlement of Rääsa to collect mining waste water and access roads have been largely completed. A temporary substation has been installed on the site of the future underground ramp.
The Uus-Kiviõli site has an area of 6251 hectares. The active oil shale deposits are more than 207 million tons, with Enefit Power owning 138.4 million tons and VKG owning 69.2 million tons.
Editor: Merili Nael, Kristina Kersa