Rarely will people have been happier with the arrival of electricity. The launch of Vilnius's first-ever power plant was celebrated with a statue of the electricity goddess. This statue, now found in the centre of the city, was so popular that it featured in folk songs. After the power plant was decommissioned, people campaigned to have it recognised as national heritage and today it attracts many visitors as the Energy and Technology Museum.
As one of the EU's fastest growing economies, Lithuania requires a reliable energy supply, but like the other two Baltic States, it suffers from poor links with the rest of Europe. As a so-called energy island, there are few suppliers to buy energy from. For gas imports it is heavily dependent on Russia, which has led to higher prices. In 2012 Lithuania paid 15% above the European average for natural gas.
Lithuania aims to achieve energy independence by 2020 through the implementation of a series of projects that a senior official compared to chess pieces in a match against Russia, its former Soviet master. The most important elements of Lithuania’s strategy include a possible new nuclear power plant, a liquefied natural gas terminal, cutting loose from the old Soviet grid and establishing power interconnections with the EU.
A liquefied natural gas terminal will open in Klaipėda at the end of this year, while power interconnections with Poland and Sweden are under construction. The EU plays an active role in advancing these projects. For example, it supports the Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan (BEMIP) to increase energy interconnections and improve the energy market in the Baltic Sea region.
“The EU is definitely a common denominator for all Baltic States and it’s doing a great job making the governments think about the regional interest, not only domestic," said Reinis Aboltins, an energy expert at the Providus think-tank in Latvia. Once the electricity lines with Sweden and Poland are finished, Lithuania will enjoy much lower electricity prices. Mr Aboltins added: “The power lines make you connected and allow you to stay connected. It’s like joining an electricity EU, at least physically."
The EU has been pushing for years for an integrated and smart energy infrastructure in Europe. This would promote competition, driving down prices, and reduce countries' reliance on just a handful of suppliers. The need for this was demonstrated in 2009 when Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine over outstanding bills, also leaving many Southeastern European countries without gas.
Russia also showed this year it is willing to use gas in its conflict with Ukraine. Pensioner Darata Liukeviciene, 75, from Vilnius, thinks the recent events in Ukraine should be a signal to the entire EU.
“I believe they understand our problems and our dependency on energy," she said. "I hope that after what happened in Ukraine the EU will start doing something. With the links we’ll be safer."