Jens postpones his ‘moon landing’

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Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who famously equated his government’s carbon recapture plans at a major west coast power plant to a “moon landing,” seems to have lost contact with mission control. His government was under attack Sunday for breaking a major promise.

Statoil's Mongstad plant isn't going to have its emissions cut any time soon. PHOTO: Statoil/Øyvind Hagen

Stoltenberg had to go on national television Sunday evening to try to explain why his expensive plans to cut emissions at Statoil’s gas power plant at Mongstad wouldn’t come to fruition during his current government’s period in office. Newspaper Aftenposten had reported Sunday morning that the plans for carbon recapture at Mongstad were postponed beyond 2014.

“We’ve had very ambitions goals,” Stoltenberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on the nightly national newscast Dagsrevyen. He claimed his government “still wants” to carry the emission plans forward, but just needs to use “a bit longer time.”

Plans have called for both a test center and a full-scale carbon recapture plant. The test center was supposed to be ready in 2011, at a cost of around NOK 5.2 billion, seven times its initial price estimate, according to newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). The recapture plant has been estimated to cost NOK 25 billion, plus annual operating costs of around NOK 1.7 billion, plus the costs of storing carbon dioxide under the seabed.

‘Oslo, we have a problem’
Stoltenberg said the deadlines initially set were wrong, and that experts in the field have advised that they be extended for “technologial reasons.” Stoltenberg acknowledged others who contend the technology for carbon recapture exists, but cautioned that it hasn’t been applied before on such a massive scale as what’s needed at Mongstad.

“It’s better to get a good project later, than to have a bad project earlier,” Stoltenberg said. He noted that the state is investing an “enormous” amount in the carbon recapture project, and simply wants to get it right.

Environmental groups assailed the latest postponement on Sunday, and claimed Stoltenberg’s government has lost credibility. “I understand their impatience,” Stoltenberg said. “We want this, too.”

He denied his Labour Party, which likes to project an environmentally friendly image, was shifting responsibility for the Mongstad project to whichever government takes power after the 2014 national election.

‘Scandal’
The carbon recapture program at Mongstad was initially supposed to be in place from the first day of operations at the gas power plant. Stoltenberg’s government partner, the Socialist Left (SV), had demanded that, but later had to concede that it wouldn’t happen.

Now SV has to swallow another setback, while environmental group Bellona feels stabbed in the back. “This postponement will probably mean that (the carbon recapture at) Mongstad will be completed in 2017, 2018, 2020 or maybe never,” said Bellona leader Fredric Hauge. 

He’s calling for the resignation of Oil and Energy Minister Terje Riis-Johansen, and blames Statoil for dragging its feet and breaking its own deals with the state. The carbon recapture is hugely expensive, costing around NOK 10 billion just in its initial phases.

“This is a scandal,” Hauge told Aftenposten.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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