Government agrees to amend law to issue permit to oil processing plant

Oil-shale burning power station at Auvere, just west of Narva.
Oil-shale burning power station at Auvere, just west of Narva. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

The government made a decision in principle at the cabinet session on Thursday to amend the law to allow the granting of time-limited complex permits. This means Enefit Power can submit an application for a new construction permit for the oil shale processing plant.

On October 11, the Supreme Court revoked Enefit Power's building permit saying mistakes were made in the environmental impact assessment when the permit was granted. 

Climate Minister Kristen Michal (Reform) told ERR the cabinet agreed the plant's environmental impact assessment would be time-limited. The amendment will be made to the Industrial Emissions Act which will allow the permits to be issued in the future.

He said the amendment will be processed at the same time as the budget so it can be dealt with "at a good pace".

"If this environmental impact assessment has been completed in time, Enefit Power will be able to start working with the municipality in the coming weeks to obtain a new building permit and move forward," said Michal.

Minister of Finance Mart Võrklaev (Reform) said the plant's environmental impact assessment has essentially been completed. "It still has to be approved by the Environment Agency, and once approved, the local authority should be able to reconsider granting a new building permit," he told "Aktuaalne kaamera".

Võrklaev hoped the permit could be issued before December 12. "The complex permit that is needed to start up the processing plant, it takes about half a year, so once that can be issued, the plant can start up," Võrklaev added.

Narva-Jõesuu city government has previously said that it hopes to issue a new construction permit for the oil plant in a few weeks' time.

Michal said the current estimate is that the plant could last until 2035 under current climate targets.

"In our view, the climate targets that have been agreed under different governments simply say that if the more polluting activities, which include the oil industry, do not pull back, we will fail to meet the targets or other sectors will have to pull back disproportionately more. So the oil processing plant has a chance of delivering on current targets up to 2035, is our assessment. After that, the technological process will have to move towards lower emissions. (Owner of Enefit Power) Eesti Energia has said it is trying to move in this direction," he said.

Speaking at the government's weekly press conference, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said none of the coalition parties at the time supported the then government's decision to build an oil plant, and today's ruling parties were against it.

As hundreds of millions of euros have already been invested in the facility, Kallas said there are three options: to finish the construction and development of the plant, to postpone them until the adoption of the Climate Act, or to change the law in order to give the oil plant a temporary complex permit.

"If we go ahead with this plant now so that it fits within the climate targets, change the law in this way, we will have until 2035 to create alternative jobs there," Kallas added. 

According to Andres Vainola, chairman of the board of Enefit Power, more than 65 percent of the €353 million investment in the construction of the Auvere oil plant has already been made.


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Editor: Urmet Kook, Uku Toom, Marko Tooming, Helen Wright

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