Estonia's power distribution system operator Elektrilevi commands around 100 repair brigades at peak capacity, while three times that number would have been required to deal with the aftermath of the October storm in a timely manner, the company's CEO Mihkel Härm said on the "Esimene stuudio" talk show.
Härm said that Elektrilevi dispatched every free brigade it had to deal with recent weeks' power outages in Southeast Estonia which were joined by additional crews from Latvia.
While the company commands 100 brigades nationwide today, it is half the manpower it had 15 years ago. Over 300 brigades would have been needed to fix the damage caused by this year's October storm.
"We crunched the numbers, and we would have needed 360 crews if we wanted to restore power everywhere in 16 hours. We had 100 but could have used 360. And it's very easy to say, well, just hire them. The first problem is that Estonia does not have enough electricians," Härm said, adding that the DSO has plans to train electricians itself.
The other problem is that paying all of these extra crews would deliver a considerable hike in fixed costs.
"It's a matter of striking a balance. Maintaining 360 crews would add €50 million in annual spending. This would in turn translate to a transmission fee hike of 18-19 percent. The question is whether we want to be able to respond quicker or invest in the grid, which requires more money, or whether we will settle... /.../ that we'll be able to offer a different level of service in different areas. But that decision is up to the government, not Elektrilevi," the CEO remarked.
He proposed emulating the Finns in saying that people need to be able to cope without central water, power and heating for 72 hours, instead of the current 16-hour response time requirement in Estonia.
Elektrilevi ended up paying customers damages of €370,000 in the aftermath of the October storm and is looking at a similar figure for the December outages.
Moving all power lines underground would cost €3 billion
Härm said that weather-proofing all power lines in Estonia, which means moving them underground, would cost €2-3 billion. He added that the DSO does not have the money and raising it would require doubling today's transmission fee.
The head of Elektrilevi said that it would be enough to hike the fee by 30 percent and use the resulting €1-1.5 billion to move power lines connecting settlements underground and use more resilient aerial lines elsewhere.
Minister of Climate Kristen Michal said Tuesday that Elekrilevi will need to increase grid investments, which will likely result in a higher transmission fee. Härm said that Elektrilevi has invested more than its profit allows and been forced to borrow in recent years.
"Over the last five years, our loan burden has grown to exceed €130 million and we will hit a ceiling at some point," he said.
Isamaa MP, deputy chair of the Riigikogu Environment Committee, Andres Metsoja said that a situation where people have to go weeks without power cannot be considered normal. He remarked that public infrastructure must ensure no harm comes to private property, and that the fact the current distribution system is outdated means that rapid action is needed.
Snowy December weather, which has seen trees fall on power lines has caused extensive power outages in many parts of the country and it has, in some cases, taken Elektrilevi two weeks to restore power to remote households.
Editor: Merili Nael, Marcus Turovski
Source: "Esimene stuudio"