More power line battles loom

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Overhead power lines dot the landscape all over Norway, but now local officials may step up demands for underground or underwater cables instead, after the government agreed to re-consider them in the heated debate over Hardanger.

Power lines carry electricity all over Norway, like here on the western edge of Krokskogen in Buskerud County. PHOTO: Views and News

Construction of what some have called “monster masts” over the scenic Hardanger Fjord unleashed a torrent of criticism against the government led by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. On Tuesday Stoltenberg agreed to re-evaluate alternatives to the offensive overhead lines, without losing momentum in efforts to send more power supplies to Bergen.

While many political observers and media claimed Stoltenberg and his government had backed down on their earlier decision allowing construction of the power lines, no promises have been made that the masts won’t be built. Rather, a new independent study of supply alternatives will be conducted by February 1, after which a new decision can be made.

Both Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and his Oil and Energy Minister Terje Riis-Johansen were feeling the heat when they announced their compromise on the Hardanger power line conflict. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

That will be right in the middle of winter, making it easier for politicians to accept the power lines if they’re still recommended over underwater cables and if Bergen is in the midst of another energy shortage. Stoltenberg also claimed that the power project through Hardanger will get underway this fall anyway, simply starting at its western end where masts would be built regardless instead of its eastern end, where masts are especially unpopular.

That seemed to satisfy the roughly dozen local mayors from the western county of Hordaland who met with Stoltenberg and his embattled oil and energy minister Terje Riis-Johansen on Tuesday. Riis-Johansen, sweating but trying to appear jovial in the face of opposition, claimed he was satisfied as well, and that the government had come up with a “rather elegant” compromise.

It’s already setting off demands, though, from other power-line-plagued municipalities around Norway that they’re going to resist more overhead lines as well, and demand the more expensive underwater variety. That could, if successful, dramatically raise electricity rates for Norwegians all over the country.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, remained skeptical to the government compromise on the disputed Hardanger lines. Rasmus Hansson of WWF noted, for example, that while the government agreed to a re-evaluation of the underwater cable alternative, “they haven’t said anything” that indicates they will actually opt for it. Local groups opposed to overhead lines also remain on guard.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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