Speaker of the Saeima,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to open today's forum.
Energy has rightly been at the centre of our attention in recent years. Initially, this was driven by the predictions about climate change. This was followed by European Union policy initiatives to move towards a low-carbon economy. Finally, Russia's attack on Ukraine showed that reducing dependence on fossil resources is a matter of national security and economic competitiveness.
Energy prices and energy security concerns have mobilised policy.
It is clear that we cannot continue as we have been. Business as usual is not possible.
Over the last year, the EU has managed to agree on strategic energy security objectives. Decisions have been taken that would otherwise have taken years of discussion to reach. But the European Union has taken strategic decisions quickly enough and consistently enough, given the current crisis.
In Latvia, too, we are seeing some progress. To give a few examples:
Firstly, we have stopped buying natural gas from Russia. In this way, we have reduced our energy dependence on the neighbouring aggressor country.
Secondly, the interest of the population in generating electricity for self-consumption has increased. The number of micro-generators connected to the distribution grid has increased from 2 145 to almost 12 000 in 2022. This is the result of both state support and rising electricity prices.
Thirdly, large electricity producers have also shown interest in implementing renewable energy projects in Latvia - onshore and offshore wind farms, solar power plants. The number of foreign investment projects in solar and wind energy is also growing.
Fourthly, last year industry players signed a memorandum on cooperation in hydrogen technology. This demonstrates a willingness to engage in future technology research.
Finally, Latvia has a Ministry of Climate and Energy since the beginning of this year. I have encouraged and supported its creation. It is the institutional basis for ensuring the sustainable management and implementation of the climate and energy sector in a coherent manner.
The fact that we are gathering today at an energy forum organised by the Saeima indicates that climate and energy issues are also at the top of the agenda of Members of the Saeima.
The energy crisis has made it clear that Latvia has so far wasted an unforgivably long time in delaying the use of wind, solar, biomass and other alternative resources in the country's energy supply.
The natural answer to the question posed in the title of today's forum is: Yes, Latvia does need a sustainable energy strategy that serves the interests of the economy! The existing policy planning documents are not sufficient. To achieve this, they need to be complemented and, in fact, redesigned.
That is why we need a Ministry of Climate and Energy. Its first major task is to develop a new, modern, sustainable energy policy concept, and then the Ministry will have to put this concept into practice. It must also outline the long-term directions for energy development.
For example, I wonder whether Latvia is thinking of using the new generation of small nuclear reactors for energy production in the next decade. Two weeks ago, 16 of the 27 Member States of the European Union met in Paris to agree on how to further develop nuclear energy and increase the capacity of nuclear reactors in order to provide Europe with environmentally friendly energy.
Estonia was among them, but Latvia was not. Does this mean that Latvia has decided that we do not need these nuclear reactors? I do not have a particular view on this, but I would like to know what the national and government view is on this, because the 16 countries obviously will do it. Perhaps our energy policy is simply not thinking that far yet, because these nuclear reactors will only be available in the middle of the next decade.
The same applies to the issue of the liquefied natural gas terminal.
We need a serious strategy for sustainable energy development. And this strategy, in my opinion, must also look further into the future - exploring the possibilities of storing renewable energy or converting it into hydrogen.
What is more, we need to set a very clear goal for Latvia to become not only a producer of green energy, but also an exporter.
Energy policy, dear members, is a long-term policy.
It needs clear guidelines to be able to target investments accordingly, to secure the energy sector against various risks.
The debate on energy policy also needs to be held within society, so that it can grasp and understand the problems involved and be ready for new solutions, such as the construction of wind farms.
I assume that the new Ministry of Climate and Energy, after listening to Latvian and foreign experts, will carefully prepare and after some time come up with a new, modern, sustainable energy development strategy, so that it can be discussed in society and then adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers as the basis for Latvia's future energy policy in the medium term. Not just until the next elections, but we need to look to the next decade. Investors and our energy companies must have certainty about the path Latvia will take to ensure its energy independence.
The energy sector is linked to production.
Here we have opportunities to develop energy-related industries with high added value and export potential. For example, the production of wind turbine components or turbine maintenance solutions. They can also be digital tools for energy efficiency or monitoring of power grids. We also need to look at battery technologies.
It is good that there are companies in Latvia that are already operating in some of these areas. These companies form the nucleus of this new economic direction, where we could be involved in global supply chains with our technologies.
I would like to emphasize that global supply chains have changed after the Covid pandemic and the global energy crisis. They are getting shorter from a European point of view. There are many uncertainties, so it is possible for our entrepreneurs to get into these future supply chains at this moment in time. Later on, when they have become more established, it will be much harder to get in and be needed and indispensable. That is the question for this year, next year and the year after.
Therefore, more focused support for innovation, knowing what our energy policy will be and involving public universities and research institutes, could deliver better results for both manufacturing companies and the energy sector as a whole. It is crucial not to miss the decisive moment now.
Publicly owned energy companies also have the potential and the necessary competences to take the lead in innovation.
Policymakers must be clearly given such a task. This is also a matter for good energy policy. Then the country's large companies could also get seriously involved in innovation and technology development.
All this will be possible if we have enough specialists. That is why quality education and the number and involvement of physics and other sciences teachers are extremely important. But also, of course, universities and scholarships for people who want to study in the specialties of this strategic industry.
This is also a clear task for the state, because the market alone will not solve these issues.
Dear forum participants,
Today, countries around the world are investing rapidly in sustainable energy solutions. Globally, there is a race between regions for technological breakthroughs and innovation.
At this time, we need to be particularly vigilant and see very clearly our national interests - both geopolitical and economic - in this complex situation.
State involvement in the energy sector is inevitable. For example, it is the state that manages and develops network infrastructure, interconnections between countries.
The role of the state is to balance the interests of society and also of business, taking care of all aspects of sustainability - environmental, social and also economic impacts.
It is natural that the rapid development of technology does not mean that energy policy will not have to change. It is necessary to build the possibility of adapting it sufficiently effectively into the concept itself.
I congratulate the responsible committee of the Saeima, its chairman Mr Kulbergs, for this discussion involving a wide range of representatives.
An important prerequisite for the development of the energy sector is not only reasonable, sensible and progressive legislation, but also public involvement and constant communication with the society.
In order for an ambitious strategy, whatever it may be, not to remain only "on paper", the public must understand it. For example, the public should be ready to see wind farms as symbols of a modern country.
Therefore, I wish fruitful discussions both today and in the future, when developing and implementing Latvia’s energy policy concept!