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Estonia

Estonia

Toronto firm creates Baltic Sea waves -- Russian motive questioned

A Canadian firm from Toronto, describing itself as a specialist in financing renewable energy, is causing waves in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Estonia, a small country long intimidated by a large neighbour, Russia. The firm, Greta Energy, has proposed both a 500 MW wind farm on land in Estonia, which has just 78 MW of wind capacity in total, and a 400 MW offshore project in the Gulf of Riga through its local subsidiary, Raunissaar. The offshore plan is stirring up public opposition, also for a competitor, Estonia's own 4Energia, which back in 2006 proposed its own 200 turbine offshore project in the same area off the Hiiumadala coast.

As 4Energia waits for the Estonian government to determine its consent application, the fear is that the environment ministry may be swayed by a row that has erupted over Greta Energy's plans. Rumours that the foreign interloper would send most, if not all, the energy generated by its projects across the water to Sweden in the west are gaining strength, exacerbated by the news that the EU has earmarked EUR 175 million to build a transmission connection between Sweden and the three Baltic states, Estonia being one of them. This has not gone down well with local islanders.

Around 500 residents on nearby islands have signed a petition to stop Greta's EEK 6-7 billion (EUR 383-447 million) onshore development, openly questioning whether Russian businessmen Victor Belilovskiy, president of Greta, and Iouri Stepanova, the company's director, have local interests in mind. The company says it operates in Estonia, Russia, Bosnia and Vietnam.

Setback

Jaan Tepp from Estonia's wind power association says the bad press and negative local reaction to Greta's project have been a definite setback. "Hiiumaa is now a tough sell," says Tepp. "The main problem is the investors never gave a really clear view of what they were planning to do and who they were going to export to. Now it is a bit of a mess." The lack of a promised offshore wind legislation from government is not helping matters.

Martin Kruus of 4Energia, which is jointly owned by Norway's Vardar Eurus and Estonia's Freenergy AS, says legal and philosophical questions about wind power in general are now slowing progress on the offshore legislation, a vital first step for development. "We need that offshore legislation," says Tepp. "Just as much, we also all need to work on having a better image for wind in general." Kruus concurs: "I think the lesson learned is draw a site map at the same time you get in touch with local stakeholders and make sure they somehow benefit."

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