Baltic nations prepare for life without Russian electricity amid tensions
By Juris Kaza
Riga, Jul 2 (EFE).- Heightened tensions with Russia over its war against Ukraine and Moscow’s unpredictable responses to tightening international sanctions have raised concerns in the Baltic countries that they could be suddenly cut off from their ongoing historical connections to Russia’s electricity network.
Stopping the flow of electric current from Russia would “desynchronize” the Baltic electricity networks from the Russian grid, which could theoretically affect the quality of electricity transmission along high-voltage lines and reduce the overall security of electricity supply.
In simple terms, synchronization in a large electrical grid means that drops in supply, such as a stoppage at a generating facility, would be automatically and seamlessly compensated by other power plants on the grid, Gatis Junghans, a member of the board of Augstsprieguma tikls (AST), Latvia’s high voltage transmission network, told Efe.
If the Baltic electrical network was left on its own, it would be less protected against electricity quality fluctuations than as part of a larger network.
The possibility of a sudden cut-off from the Russian and Belarusian electricity grids has been raised after Russian threatened unspecified actions that would affect the Lithuanian population after Lithuania said it would enforce European Union sanctions against rail cargo transit from Russia to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
However, officials at Baltic electricity transmission networks say there are plans in place to overcome Russia cutting the electricity supply and the joint Baltic network would not suffer and serious disturbance.
“We would switch to a link that is already in place between Lithuania and Poland. Poland is synchronized with the West European electrical grid,” Junghans said, noting that plans were advancing for a complete cut-off from the Russian-Belarus network from the Baltic side by 2025.
He said that there is already no more commercial electricity transmission from Russia to the Baltics — the three countries share electricity among themselves or buy it from Finland or elsewhere in Scandinavia.
The only electricity from the Russian grid is “transit traffic” sending current to Kaliningrad, Junghans said, noting that a cut-off of the Baltic countries “would make Kaliningrad an ‘electricity island’ dependent only on its own power plants.”
Representatives of high-voltage transmission companies in all three Baltic countries said they are working closely to desynchronize from Russia and join the European grid by 2025, but also have emergency plans should Russia suddenly cut them off.
“Synchronization programs in all three Baltic countries consist of numerous projects that will be implemented. We are strengthening local networks in three countries, connecting nine synchronous condensers (technical devices) — three in each country, installing frequency and system control hardware and software, and building an offshore interconnection between Lithuania and Poland,” Ain Koster, a spokesperson for Estonia’s Elering transmission operator, told Efe.
Koster also touched on the threat of Russian suddenly cutting the connection. “The possibility that emergency synchronisation may happen has been taken into account and we have been working on projects that strengthen our grid and supporting systems for many years already. If needed, we would switch from the Russian/Belarus frequency area to the continental Europe area within short period of time,” he wrote.
Baltic grid operators cite the war against Ukraine and political risk from Russia even before that as among the reasons they have been working on desynchronizing from the Russian-Belarusian grid 15 years ago.
Plans for the synchronization of the transmission network of the Baltic states with the European networks were made in 2007 according to an e-mail from Latvia’s AST. The company’s board member Junghans adds that besides decreasing exposure to political actions from Russia, synchronization with continental Europe would also connect the Baltic countries to an electrical network that in terms of power generated is three times the size of the Russian and Belarus network.
For Lithuania, an important aspect of desynchronization is to be completely disconnected from the Astravyets nuclear power plant in Belarus, just across the border from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. Lithuanian officials suspect the nuclear facility could be dangerous and before the war against Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, were pushing the other Baltic countries to boycott trading electricity from Belarus.
However, stopping trade in electricity and desynchronizing from the Russian-Belarus network will not solve the safety issue with Astravyets, whose cooling towers some Lithuanians say can be seen from a high place in Vilnius on a clear day.
In the emergency synchronization plan, Lithuania’s direct cross border link with Poland would play a key role and, by 2025, would upgraded to one of the main electricity connections of all three Baltic countries to Europe.EFE