‘Postpone the monster masts’

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Campaigners against the “monster mast” power lines in Hardanger have told ministers that they would like to see the project postponed or at the very least changed to underground and undersea cables, as the oil and energy ministry began discussions on the issue Thursday.

Power lines, like these over the mountains between Turtagrø and Øvre Årdal, were again the subject of debate on Thursday. PHOTO: Kurt Haugli

Supporters of the overhead power masts joined opponents during meetings with oil and energy minister Terje Riis-Johansen to discuss the next steps in the saga, in light of evidence delivered by four expert panels last week. The panels agreed that the main alternative to the so-called “monster masts” – underground and ocean cables – would be much more expensive and technically problematic than the original proposal, and would themselves carry negative environmental impacts for the sensitive, tourist-intensive region.

Local mayors in Hardanger, Ulvik, Granvin, Kvam and Eidfjord joined forces across party lines to reject the need for greater network capacity in the region, which is felt necessary by supporters in order to supply Norway’s second biggest city, Bergen. Mona Hellesnes, the mayor of Ulvik, said that further lines “are not necessary for power supply to Bergen during the next 10 years” – and agreed with her mayoral colleagues that should such lines be considered essential, they would rather them come in the form of ocean and underground cables than unsightly overhead masts. Lars Haltbrekken of conservationist organization Naturvernforbundet (Friends of the Earth Norway) supported the local politicians, requesting that the government take further energy saving and efficiency measures before deciding on the need for increasing supply – something one of the expert committees suggested was possible just last week.

By the same token, supporters of the overhead power lines felt they too were vindicated by the various experts’ findings, and that the ocean cables do not represent a viable or safe alternative. One local mayor, Marit Aase of Samnanger, asked for the power lines to be built as soon as possible, finding support from the power industry itself, with a director of government power grid operator Statnett commenting to Aftenposten.no that “the power supply to Bergen will be too uncertain without a new line.” Business and trade unions in Bergen also joined forces to urge the improvement of power capacity, with both employers and workers fearing higher energy prices in future without enhanced supply.

Following these ministry discussions, a government decision has been promised “as soon as possible.” A recent poll showed that, while support for the undersea alternative was falling, only around a third of the population backed the original suggestion, with opposition to the masts strongest in the regions most affected.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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