At the discussion on the future of oil shale energy at today’s sitting of the Riigikogu, it was noted that, when making decisions, political and social aspects also needed to be taken into account besides the environmental and economic criteria.
At the deliberation of the matter of significant national importance “Estonia needs a strategy to exit oil shale energy”, reports were by member of the Management Board of the Estonian Green Movement Mihkel Annus, Chairman of the Environment Committee Rainer Vakra, Director of the Ida-Viru County Department of the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund Anneki Teelahk and President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences Tarmo Soomere.
Annus pointed out that according to the Paris Climate Agreement, the global target was to limit the greenhouse gas emissions and the consequent increase in the average atmospheric temperature. “The data of the Ministry of the Environment show that approximately 90 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions generated in Estonia originate from the energy sector. In turn, the overwhelming majority of it originates from oil shale energy,” Annus noted. In his opinion, in order to reduce our carbon footprint and among other things to be in conformity with the European Union’s perspective to gradually move towards a carbon-neutral society by 2050, it is necessary to actually begin to cut down on emissions originating from the energy sector well in advance. “The most effective way is to begin where it is possible to economise the most, that is, to realise the transition from oil shale to renewable energy, at the same time ensuring electricity supply security and the socio-economic welfare in Estonia,” Annus said.
Vakra pointed out that, due to the oil shale sector, the OECD had indeed given Estonia the title of the Member State with the most carbon-intensive economy, and according to the Global Green Economy Index, Estonia ranked the last among European countries. In his words, unfortunately such important issues do not attract too much attention in the society and in the media.
Vakra said that he continued to hold the position that a specific date for exiting oil shale electricity production would be needed. “So that there would be a positive target, direction, decision – then we will be able to find the necessary mechanisms, too. However, of course, the movement towards renewable energy must be a clear political objective, and at the same time the risks relating to the oil shale sector also need to be managed effectively,” Vakra said. He added that in a way the issue had been passed around like a hot potato in the plenary hall and in the Riigikogu, but there had been a reason for that, too, because the equation had three variables: economic issues, social issues and environmental issues.
Vakra said that issues where oil shale had been “the main topic” had been discussed in the plenary hall of the Riigikogu. “Various development plans. For example, the Development Plan for Adaptation to Climate Change until 2030 which includes the objective to increase the readiness and capability of the Estonian state at the regional and local level to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Then the National Development Plan of the Energy Sector Until 2030 with the aim that renewable energy would represent 50% of final consumption by that time. Or be it the Resolution of the Riigikogu “The General Principles of Earth’s Crust Policy until 2050”, adopted on 6 June 2017. Or the General Principles of Climate Policy until 2050, adopted on 5 April 2017, according to which Estonia has the target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 per cent below 1999 levels by 2050,” Vakra noted. He also mentioned the Resolution of the Riigikogu “The National Development Plan for Oil Shale Use for 2016–2030”, which aimed to implement a national interest of efficient and sustainable use of oil shale as a national richness and the ensuring of sustainable development of the oil shale sector.
Vakra gave an overview of the marathon meeting on the issue of oil shale energy that had been held in the Environment Committee with the participation of representatives of the relevant authorities and ministries.
Teelahk spoke of the labour market and employment in Ida-Viru County over the last decade and the redundancy waves that were connected with the closing down of oil shale mines during those years. It is a significant social problem. At present, the unemployment rate is eight per cent in the region. She said that Ida-Viru County had been characterised by the number of long-term unemployed in connection with closing down of companies. Teelahk gave an overview of the measures that had been implemented to solve the problems relating to employment in the region and the directing of people to operating undertakings through retraining.
Speaking of the use of oil shale, Soomere said that it had several positive aspects. “After all, we are the only net exporter of electricity in the European Union, everything is all right with the external trade balance, the tax and revenue source of the state is 4 per cent of GDP, 6000, 7000, 8000 jobs, depending on how you read it, 13,000 indirectly, partial refinement of local resource which is good, after all. And besides – a trifle, yes, but still – technology and by-products,” Soomere said. He also pointed out the negative aspects, many of which had already been mentioned – atmosphere, ground and surface water, visual pollution. A relatively complicated downside is the fact that we do not refine this resource enough. “It cannot be said that nothing has been done. Fly ash – the ash has been caught. Sulphur emissions have decreased significantly. And electricity production has even increased a little during this decade. So that things have become cleaner. Things are also improving in terms of absolute numbers. Considerably less carbon dioxide has been released by power plants, and in the near future the quantities will likely be several times smaller even if oil shale energy were to continue in more or less the same volume as in current forecasts,” Soomere explained.
In his opinion, burning must be replaced by refining to get the maximum out of oil shale. “Pressing, mixing or burning of oil is not a solution. The pollution site would simply be taken further from the mine, the quantity of emissions released into the atmosphere would not change significantly, and the sulphur would still not be extracted. The only benefit here is that oil is a concentrated energy conserve,” Soomere emphasised. “We can become better only if we utilise the potential of oil shale in a new way, on the basis of very good oil shale chemistry. We cannot rely on others because the world’s best knowledge about oil shale is currently in Estonia,” Soomere stressed. At the end of his presentation he noted that “PÕXIT” (põlevkivi – oil shale + exit) was not an Estonian word and hopefully would not come into use.
During the debate, Mihhail Stalnuhhin (Centre Party), Marko Pomerants (Isamaa), Kalle Palling (Reform Party), Andres Herkel (Estonian Free Party), Jaak Madison (Estonian Conservative People’s Party), Jürgen Ligi (Reform Party), Henn Põlluaas (Estonian Conservative People’s Party), Peeter Ernits and Tarmo Kruusimäe (Isamaa) took the floor.
The second reading of the Bill on Amendments to the Health Services Organisation Act and the Medicinal Products Act (689 SE), and the first reading of the Bill on Amendments to the Medicinal Products Act (656 SE) and the Bill on Amendments to the Status of Members of the Riigikogu Act (647 SE) that had been scheduled for today will take place at tomorrow’s sitting.
The sitting ended at 1.34 p.m.
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu
(NB! The recording will be uploaded with a delay.)
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