Heavy snowfall a challenge for oil shale electricity production

Snow removal in progress at Ida-Viru County oil shale production zone.
Snow removal in progress at Ida-Viru County oil shale production zone. Source: ERR

The recent heavy snowfall in Estonia has led to mounting costs for companies engaged in oil shale electricity generation and related activities. The region most affected is Ida-Viru County, the easternmost region of Estonia, with Eesti Energia and Viru Keemia Grupp (VKG) the companies involved, as reported on ETV current affairs show Aktuaalne kaamera.

On Tuesday morning, electricity consumption reached a near all-time record, coinciding with two-year winter temperature lows, meaning power plants have to work at full capacity. Amongst other things, this means a constant movement of oil shale, the raw material which is burnt in Ida-Viru County power plants and which generates the bulk of Estonia's electricity.

Whilst the special machinery used to keep railways clear, as well as other transport links, all the way between the power stations and the oil shale mines where the raw material is extracted, is working well, these still need human operators, and fatigue is kicking in there.

Visual checking of shale-bearing trains a burden

For instance, rail personnel must check the whole length of a train each time it is coupled to wagons carrying the shale, said AS Enefit Kaevandused board member Meelis Goldberg, from Eesti Energia's mining subsidiary.

''The length of the trains is as much as 900 metres, and when you're practically knee-deep in snow this is hard. The last time we had conditions like this was about eight years ago,'' said Mr Goldberg.

VKG, whose mine at Ojamaa includes moving oil shale to the electricity plants via a closed conveyor belt, needs more resources to clear the roads.

"We are on 24-hour production and the roads must always be clean to ensure access to all production units,'' said VKG spokesperson Irina Bojenko.

The total cost to the sector of the extra work needed will only become clear with the spring thaw, it is reported.

Meanwhile some power generation facilities in Narva are due for closure, due to their age and in order to comply with EU regulations.

The original report (in Estonian) is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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