Lithuania launches power lines cutting reliance on Russia
Lithuania on Monday introduced new power lines to Sweden and Poland connecting the EU-member Baltic states to the western energy market while reducing their dependence on imports from Russia.
Vilnius hopes its new 700-megawatt undersea power link to Sweden will bring in cheaper energy while its 500-megawatt line to Poland should help integrate the Baltic states into the European power grid.
"We have turned an isolated energy island in the Baltic Sea region into the Baltic energy ring," said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.
Fellow Baltic leaders said the new lines would boost energy security in EU members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which were ruled by Moscow during the Cold War.
"This is a very important step for the regional electricity market... (it) will strengthen our region's security," said Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas.
Despite joining the EU and NATO in 2004, the trio are still part of a Russian-controlled power ring -- a legacy of five decades of the Soviet rule that ended in 1991.
In a letter, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the new power lines which are still being tested were "a truly historic milestone in the Baltic states' energy security."
So far the three Baltic states have used a sea link between Estonia and Finland to hook up to the western power grid.
Lithuania's state-run grid operator Litgrid said the new power lines would save the country 90 million euros ($98 million) in 2016.
"The market prices of electricity are likely to fall, cutting the price for businesses and improving the competitiveness of exports," SEB bank economist Tadas Povilauskas told AFP.
Lithuania already broke a Russian monopoly on gas deliveries in January by launching its first floating LNG terminal in the port of Klaipeda.
The country of three million people became heavily dependent on power imports after closing its only nuclear plant in 2009 under the terms of its European Union entry.
This year, Lithuania has imported three-quarters of its electricity, with half of the imports coming from Belarus and Russia.
The three Baltic prime ministers said Monday they wanted to leave the post-Soviet system and synchronise the electricity grids with western Europe by 2025.
Those plans have angered Russia, which believes that would isolate its westernmost outpost of Kaliningrad.
© 2015 AFP