Energy debate rages on in Latvia as atomic plant prepares to close
April 9, 2008

Riga – Latvia risks an energy crunch unless Baltic nations agree on alternative energy sources after the region’s only nuclear power plant shuts down next year, Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis warned Wednesday. Anticipating potential shortfall of electricity in 2009, Latvia would have to look for energy solutions to Russia’s gas monopoly giant Gazprom.

Latvia and its Baltic neighbours, Lithuania and Estonia, have been wrestling with future of energy supplies, in anticipation of electrical shortage when the Ignalina nuclear power plant in Lithuania shuts down as the EU’s demands.

Mostly isolated from the EU energy networks, the Baltic countries, would have to look to Russia as their energy supplier amidst fears the Kremlin may use its economical foothold in the former Soviet republics for political gain.

The Baltics already have the electrical infrastructure with Russia in place, a remnant of the Soviet Union system. Building new links is expensive and time-consuming.

To remedy the electric isolation, the Baltic states aim to link the electric grids of Lithuania with Poland, or Latvia with Sweden – but those projects are years away from completion.

“If we can’t decide how we can get connected, we risk … to remain without electricity,” Godmanis said during a parliamentary debate on energy in the Latvian capital, Riga.

Also years away is a replacement nuclear power plant for Ignalina, which the EU wants to shut down in 2009 because it is deemed unsafe.

The three countries and Poland’s push for new nuclear power station have been ridden with delays. Lithuania’s parliamentary elections in October are unlikely to force the government to make any decisions on this issue.

So instead, Lithuania which spearheads the efforts to replace the existing power plant, turned to Brussels to extend Ignalina’s life, frustrating officials in Estonia and Latvia.

“I have to apologize to our Lithuanian colleagues, but their conduct on that issue was destructive,” a member of the opposition, Aigars Stokenbergs said.

Estonia is expected to decide later this year if it plans to construct its own nuclear power station.