Lithuania to Merge Energy Companies

VILNIUS, Lithuania -- Lithuania's government won a parliamentary vote Friday to merge a private and two state-owned energy companies to invest in a new nuclear power plant and build connections to Sweden and Poland.

The vote will give a boost to delayed plans to build the new power station in cooperation with Poland, Latvia and Estonia -- all countries that want to reduce their reliance on Russia for energy. The four countries' economy ministers are to meet to discuss the plant on Feb. 4.

"The parliament's decision means that we have created a national investor and the process [of building a new nuclear plant] kicks off," Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said.

The vote was controversial as critics said the private company involved in the merger, the Western Grid Company, was getting too big a stake in the merged entity, with 38 percent.

Kirkilas said the four countries would discuss the project schedule this week. "I hope that we could establish a joint project company in the autumn, after hearing the results of the environmental impact study," he said. He told reporters that he hoped construction of the plant could start in two to three years.

The plant, with planned capacity of 3,200 to 3,400 megawatts, is aimed at replacing one that Lithuania is obliged to shut down at the end of 2009.

The new facility is expected to cost about $9 billion.

The parliament vote created an energy company called LEO LT, which will own two power grid companies, one of which is private and the other, called the Eastern Power Grid Company, is state-owned.