Hey, great news! The Baltic states vow to break away from the Russian power grid by 2025, and hook themselves into the European Union electricity system, breaking the last of a ‘Soviet legacy’. I can’t help thinking that will leave them with one less thing to bitch about, but I suppose they see it as a fair exchange. Before we go further, I’ve selected Lithuania, in the title, as exemplary of the Baltic states; Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. That was mostly for the alliterative lilt offered by “Last”, “Lithuania” and “Lights”, and while Latvia would have worked just as well there, Lithuania’s portly president – Dalia Grybauskaite, who has sometimes been described as quite a bit like Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in a dress – is so reliably vocal in her hatred and disdain for all things Russian that she sort of volunteers her country.
“This is the last millstone tied to our feet, keeping us from real energy independence,” she trumpeted triumphantly to local station LRT. “That tool of blackmail, which was used (by Russia) to buy our politicians and meddle in our politics, will no longer exist.”
The last millstone tied to her dainty pink feet, the last obstacle which prevents Lithuania – and the Baltic brothers – from real energy independence! Think of that. Cause for celebration, surely? Well, except – forgive me for being a stickler for accuracy – unless the Baltics mean to generate their own power in amounts sufficient unto their consumption (and they don’t), they are actually exchanging one dependency for another. Are they making a good deal? Let’s look.
You’ll have to bear with me here, because as I have found is usual in researching utility consumption in Europe as a basis for comparison, they give you a straight answer about as frequently as you stumble upon an apparently-abandoned fifty-dollar note (or its local monetary equivalent) in the street. I found before, when trying to establish European natural-gas consumption for the purpose of establishing how much LNG the USA would have to deliver by tanker to meet its needs, that I had to convert units of measure and costs back and forth so many times I almost forgot what it was I was trying to prove.
Anyway, let’s try to establish some benchmarks for further reference. What we think we know, according to information available from the intertubes, is that (1) Lithuanians currently pay about €145.08 per month for all their utilities; Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage, for an average apartment. (2) Electricity prices in the European Union, while they vary widely from country to country, are steadily going up even as average consumption decreases, and (3) are more than double rates in the United States. (4) The climatic average for the Baltic states most closely matches that of the New England states of the USA, and (5) the average monthly cost of electricity for the New England states is $115.93. That’s €100.12 at today’s exchange rate. But European electricity rates were more than twice those in the USA, remember – so that’s around €200.24 per month. Just for electricity. Garbage and other utility costs, extra. Another fact we gleaned from our intertube prowling is that Lithuania’s electricity consumption rose among the fastest of member states between 2005 and 2015 – 23% – even as its domestic contribution to energy generation dropped dramatically due to the decommissioning of its only nuclear plant; it dropped by 65.6%.
So, there’s a useful political tip for Lithuanians, and probably for everybody – when the boss starts rhapsodizing about overcoming the last obstacle to true energy independence, get your wallet out and get ready to pay more in energy costs. Independence isn’t cheap, you know. Meanwhile, Lithuania – and its Baltic companions – is getting ready to plug into the European power grid under conditions in which it more than halved its own production and increased its consumption by nearly a quarter. Sounds like a good deal, what? Well, for somebody.
I hate to bring it up, but a kick in the pants in the form of higher utility bills is not the only thing the Baltics will have to think about when they hot-wire themselves to the great beating heart of Europe. They’ll have to consider, also, reliability of generated power. Europe is big on the expansion of ‘renewables’ in its power shopping basket; wind and solar power generation. That’s all very well for their green image, and to be truthful we should all aspire to more usage of non-hydrocarbon-based energy to help keep global warming down and just generally be more responsible consumers. But the hard facts are that renewables are not especially reliable, and there are still some storage issues to sort out before they achieve anything like the dependability of gas or nuclear power, both of which are quite clean energy, relatively speaking.
In Spring of last year, the entire center of Brussels blacked out, due to ‘an electric network distribution problem’. As official explanations go, they don’t come too much vaguer than that. But France’s energy transition policy calls for a 190% increase in the use of solar power and a 130% increase in power from wind farms, by 2023. When power requirements and power availability don’t see eye to eye, Europe has to buy electricity generated from other sources to make up the difference.
The Baltic lunge for true energy independence comes as Russia is upgrading and modernizing its national power grid, using a partnership majority-owned by Alstom Grid, a French multinational whose grid operations are owned by General Electric. Although western sources are derisive of the Russian power grid, citing its wasteful inefficiencies and ancient technology, they are forced to admit it soldiers on, year after year. They like to point out that modern switchgear is only available in the big cities, while small towns have much more primitive systems. Uhh….where is that not true?
Prediction time – if the EU is still around as a political entity by the time the Baltic pups fasten onto its sparking teats, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians are going to be paying a lot more for electricity supplies which are no more dependable. But that’s always a fair exchange, when it means you breathe the sweet air of independence.