By Rimvydas Valatka, published in 15min.lt on 16 April
Stamping on her little foot that she won’t go to Poland and making barmy nationalists very happy, the President has announced that she is joining Energy Minister Sekmokas on a business trip to Qatar. To negotiate cheaper gas. Vivat! Does that mean that the next winter or the one after that will be warm and cheap?
How shall I put this politely? Late Lubys (owner of Achema) said once, even before the current Parliament took office, that he had already agreed with Qatar on gas supply. The only teeny tiny detail that was missing – a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Terminal. He tried building the terminal, but unfortunately the Kubilius-led cabinet were reluctant to share one terminal with him. So they snapped their fingers at all the work already accomplished by Achema and started everything from scratch and for a ten-fold price.
So neither this, nor next winter, will our huts be kept warm by Qatari gas. But in autumn 2014, when we finally have the LNG terminal, Qatari gas will surely relieve us of feral heating bills?
Nurturing illusions is inadvisable, even in matters of love. Not to mention economy. The government has successfully ignored what energy experts Valdas Lukoševičius of Kaunas Technology University and Vytautas Martinaitis of Vilnius Gediminas Technical University said a week ago: “Neither the LNG terminal, nor a new nuclear power plant will reduce electricity or heating prices.”
According to the scientists, the gigantic projects will only start paying off in several decades – and only for their owners. How’s that? Despite the promises made by Kubilius and Sekmokas? And surely, the President is not going to Qatar to discuss the future of feminism with the sheik?
Over the last several decades, international gas prices have been on the rise and will most likely continue that way. And what does Lithuania do? Just like during the occupation, it is using gas to heat the wind. “Over the past years, the state has spent over 3 billion litas on heating compensation, while it could have dedicated at least part of the money to improve energy efficiency of old leaky buildings or installing cheaper biofuel heating systems,” Martinaitis says.
Lukoševičius and Martinaitis insist that money poured into these gigantic projects would be better spent on renovating residential houses. They even presented some convincing examples. A family living in a 60-square-meter apartment in a renovated and biofuel-heated building in Mažeikiai paid 102 litas on their February heating bill; a household in Prienai, in a non-renovated gas-heated apartment of the same size, paid 1066 litas.
Ten times more! So how can we be helped by cheaper Qatari gas? Two authoritative scientists publicly state that Soviet-scale construction is nothing but a prolongation of wasting energy – and we proudly ignore it.
But perhaps Martinaitis and Lukoševičius are paid to say that, perhaps they are lying? At least that is how the official conservative conspiracy theory goes. Let’s assume that the two scientists are hired to say what they say. But the difference between a democratic society and a Lukashenko-like regime lies exactly in the fact that the former tolerates discussion. On everything. Especially when what we are talking about is a multi-billion-litas commitment. The government could have used the opportunity to refute “bought” opinions with arguments.
But a week has passed and no one from the government has uttered a word to disprove what Martinaitis and Lukoševičius have said. Not even an attempt was made. Reacting to criticism of what is the very foundation of the Government’s energy security policy is a direct duty of the Energy Minister. The Minister is silent. More than that – unlike Šimonytė, Masiulis, Šimašius, and other ministers, Mr Sekmokas refuses even to go into public debate. When was the last time that anyone saw Sekmokas on TV, arguing with his opponents?
It’s as if the minister is saying that arguing is so below the Energy Tsar. We are left with one option only – to trust his words. Sekmokas, however, is not God, barely a newbie politicians, while we – thank Sąjūdis – are free to choose what and whom we believe: him or professor Martinaitis.
Unlike Sekmokas, the two scientists have presented a wealth of evidence. The Ministry of Energy and Klaipėdos Nafta – the company charged with administering the LNG terminal – have not included any figures in the information they provide. Even though the strategic construction is due to start this year.
Lithuania desperately needs the terminal. In order to have an alternative to the dictate from Gazprom. But does the Government have the right to hide from citizens – the majority of which support the strategic terminal – the crucial information of how much the state will have to pay to be free from Gazprom? Do we not have a right to know the cost of gas to be delivered through the terminal? How much will we have to pay from our own purses?
Not a single figure. Even though the Energy Minister and the Prime Minister met with representatives of Norwegian Höegh LNG company that will supply the floating gas container to be used in the terminal, the government still refused to say how much the rent of the boat will cost us.
In any other EU country, such negligence would be taken as a sign of disrespect to the citizens. Höegh LNG itself has informed its shareholders that the company expects to get 50 million dollars per year for renting out the container to Lithuania. All in all, it should cost Lithuania 157 million litas per year. A container like that is worth about 700 million litas. Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to buy one – just like Poland intends to?
No comment. We must believe that everything that the government spends our money on and the way it does it is great.
What is the cost of constructing the terminal? Poland has announced that it will pay 600 million euros (2.07 billion litas) for a similar one. Who is paying the floating gas container rent? Adding up the construction cost, the boat rent and all other expenses (extension of pipelines, etc.), will Qatari gas still come cheaper?
These and other questions will very likely be answered by the next Government.
The authorities would not be wrong in saying that, after the terminal is built, the rise in gas prices for us will not exceed those for the French or Germans, as it is the case now. But claiming, as the President does, that she will agree with Qatar on “cheaper gas” – now that sounds overconfident and illusory.
Granted, when it turns to state security, the question of how much it will cost is somewhat unethical – freedom is priceless. But overpaying for freedom is not something a true statesman does. Much like lying to the nation.
The terminal will allow us to buy gas at international rates and not those decided on by Russians. But even a cause as important as that is no excuse for hiding construction figures form the people.
It should not be, but it is. We are well used to living with “no comment.”
What do we know of the reasons behind Grybauskaitė’s refusal to accept an invitation from Komorowski to join him and the presidents of Latvia and Estonia in Warsaw – in order to discuss a joint position? Is it sensible to isolate oneself like that? Is that the position of the Lithuanian state? If it is, who made such a decision? Did the President consult the Foreign Ministry or the Prime Minister? Was there a hearing in the State Defense Council?
No one discussed anything. The President simply made the decision – after consulting herself. Just like she did when she delivered her first diplomatic slap refusing to meet US President Obama in Prague. Why does the President do that – then and now? What’s gotten into her?
No comment. None of your, silly ones, business. Nationalists are orgasmic with delight – the President slaps the Pole. But nationalists do not make up the entire country. Is it imaginable that Sarkozy – without consulting anyone in the government – refuse an invitation by Merkel? Everyone knows: a state must talk even to its enemies. Poland and the US are our closest allies and, without their support, our freedom would hang by a thread. It is not the Maltese or Portuguese that guarantee our defense.
How doest that make Lithuania look? As a country of illiterate megalomaniacs with no regard for either court decisions or European etiquette. Kiss me in the…! That is exactly the difference between us and the remaining 26 EU member states – that we are still seriously proud of being Europe’s last barbarians. Surprising, though, that we should be resentful of living like ones.