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Nearly 500 million euros invested in Estonia’s environment in the past EU period

EIC as an authority
Sipelgas Image: Mait Hendrikson

During the 2014–2020 European Union budget period, the Environmental Investment Centre (EIC) allocated EUR 130 million from the Structural Funds to projects in the fields of energy and mobility, 278 million to projects in the fields of water management and biodiversity, and EUR 76 million to projects in the circular economy. Thanks to the grants, a reduction of more than 212,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions was achieved in Estonia and more than 665,000 MWh of renewable energy have been deployed.

“As a small country, it is difficult for us to make large investments independently in order to restore the natural environment and eliminate residual pollution from the Soviet period. For example, in the last EU budget period, the living conditions of more than 40,000 people were improved by building over 473 km of sewerage pipelines. With the help of European funds, oil residues were cleaned on more than 30 hectares and natural areas were restored on more than 18,000 hectares. Many problems related to waste management were also solved and the use of resources and energy by enterprises was improved,” explained Andrus Treier, CEO of EIC. “These are costly but necessary works that will help to make our common living environment cleaner and more environmentally friendly,” Treier added.

In order to preserve biodiversity, a variety of habitats were restored on almost 16,000 hectares, including various swamp communities, heritage meadows and river habitats. Habitat restoration helps to increase biodiversity and expand the distribution of protected species. In addition, drained, depleted and abandoned peatlands were reconstructed on more than 2000 hectares. The restoration of peatlands reduced the likelihood of forest fires and increased the carbon sequestration capacity of these areas.

Almost 133 million euros was allocated to the renewal of water infrastructure during the completed funding period, of which nearly 18 million euros supported the construction of domestic pipelines of private individuals, allowing more than 6000 households to join the public water supply and sewerage system. Grants were also issued to private individuals for the construction of septic tanks in order to safely collect and treat the wastewater generated on the property. 

EIC supported 30 major water infrastructure projects for a total amount of 115 million euros. For example, in 2023, public water supply and sewerage facilities were completed in Laulasmaa, Võru, Põltsamaa, Paide and Elva.

More than 23,000 people benefited from clean drinking water and more than 40,000 from a more efficient wastewater system as a result of the projects of the funding period.

In the field of energy, a large part of the district heating network was shifted to renewable energy  

EIC contributed almost 59 million euros to the development of Estonia’s district heating network in the previous funding period, including 29 million euros for investments in heat pipes and 30 million euros for boilers.

Investments will make the production of domestic heating more environmentally friendly and affordable for people. Thanks to investment projects in the development of district heating, it is estimated that 77,488 tonnes less CO2 eq/y will be emitted into the air, which is comparable to the emissions of 10,000 Volkswagen Golfs per year. Heat losses were reduced in more than 180 km of piping and the roads on top of the piping were repaired. Production in 73 boiler plants was converted to renewable energy, which accounts for almost 150 MW of thermal capacity. This could be used to heat 30,000 medium-sized private houses.

Grants also have a significant regional impact, as small areas have received more grants than large ones. For example, in the case of heat pipeline reconstruction projects, there were more applicants from counties with a smaller number of district heating areas. Although Harju County accounts for nearly half of the total heat production in Estonia, a quarter of the total amount of grants went to the region. 

Circular economy helps to find new ways for the more sustainable use of primary raw materials 

In the area of the circular economy, a significant proportion of investments were directed towards promoting the resource efficiency of businesses. For example, grants were allocated to the acquisition of laser cutting machines, which help reduce material losses and increase efficiency in production.

Efforts to move towards a circular economy began in the European Union at the end of the budget period. Companies were encouraged to use raw materials more sustainably, providing support for carrying out resource audits. The audit will show what resources the company uses and how they could be saved. In total, EIC supported 171 resource audits with almost one million euros. 

The investments needed to improve resource efficiency revealed by the audit were made by 154 companies for almost 200 million euros, of which the grant amounted to 67 million euros. 

Another important direction to promote the circular economy is more efficient waste management and the smarter recovery of waste. In total, 17 million euros was invested in the last funding period, of which the grant amounted to 10 million. EIC funded 20 waste recycling projects, including nine projects for the construction and upgrading of waste treatment plants.

Structural support was provided from the European Union’s Cohesion Fund and the European Regional Development Fund. The terms and conditions of the grants were developed by the Ministry of Climate together with the Environmental Investment Centre.