Anti-nuclear vote in Lithuania boosts offshore wind prospects

High cost of Russian gas & nuclear could work in wind's favour

Lithuanian voters have signaled their lack of support for new nuclear power, increasing the likelihood that offshore wind will be given greater consideration by the country’s incoming coalition government.

No regulatory framework yet exists for offshore wind in Lithuanian waters, ensuring that it will be at least several years before any development tenders are likely to take place.

Last month, Lithuania’s Conservative-led government was toppled. At the same time, 63% of voters indicated they do not support a plan to build the 1.4GW Visaginas nuclear power plant.

The referendum on Visaginas is not legally binding, but the party that won the greatest share of votes in last month’s election, the Social Democrats, is officially opposed to the nuclear new build project.

Since the closure of the Ignalina nuclear power station in 2009, Lithuania has increased its energy imports to 60%. Domestic gas-fired power stations are operated by a sole supplier, Russian firm Gazprom. Indeed, Russian companies account for 80% of Lithuania’s energy consumption and many Lithuanians believe they are subject to politically-motivated pricing.

"Lithuania pays more than any of Gazprom’s other customers and it has to do with the struggle for energy security," said Saulius Vytas Piksrys, director of the Lithuanian Wind Power Association, speaking with Windpower Offshore. Last month’s "voters were critical not only of the potential dangers of nuclear power but the expense," he added.

About 4% Lithuania’s electricity comes from renewable sources, with no offshore wind capacity to date. The wind power lobby estimates that Lithuania's near costal waters could be home to 1GW in offshorew wind capacity, but that negotiations between shipping, defense and other maritime interests will take time. Piksys estimates that interested offshore wind developers must wait three to five years before concessions will become available for tender.