Baltics states to link power grid to EU as early as 2020, says Lithuania

VILNIUS, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Baltic states aim to link their power grid to a European Union network as early as 2020 rather than in 2025 to end reliance on Russia, Lithuania’s energy minister said on Thursday.

The power grids of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which all joined the EU in 2004, are still integrated with a network serving Russia and Belarus, a legacy from their Soviet past.

Lithuanian Energy Minister Zygimantas Vaiciunas told Reuters the Baltic states would apply to the EU in the second half of 2018 to synchronise their network with the bloc, via a single link through Poland, between 2020 and 2025.

The three states had previously not expected their networks to be linked to the EU until 2025, after a second power line running via Poland would have been built.

“The countries are on track to sign a formal agreement on grid synchronisation by June, that is the plan” the minister said. “Latest research says only the single existing link to Poland is necessary. So we can move the target to an earlier date.”

The Baltic nations have long sought to end their reliance on Russia, but work on building links to the EU has been slowed in part by a row about whether to synchronize their grids to Nordic states or continental Europe.

The Russian and continental systems both operate at 50 Hz frequency but are not synchronised. The Russian system is run from Moscow, whereas the continental one is decentralised.

Lithuania expects Baltic states to test their ability to work autonomously from Moscow by 2019, before formally switching sometime between 2020 and 2025.

Vaiciunas, who did not give a precise date for the switch, said linking up with the EU would cost more than 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion), with the EU expected cover about 75 percent.

The cost of making the link to Europe also includes installing power converters to connect Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, sandwiched between Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic sea, with mainland Russia, Vaiciunas said.

Russia has never cut power flows to the Baltic states or threatened to do so, but Lithuania lists its power system’s synchronisation with Russia as a national security risk.

Lithuania, a vocal critic of Russia, has already ended its reliance on Russian gas by completing in 2014 a terminal for importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) by ship.

$1 = 0.8476 euros Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Edmund Blair