Masts won the battle of Hardanger

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UPDATED: Overhead power masts will be built after all in the scenic Hardanger area of Norway’s southwest mountains, the government confirmed on Tuesday. Cabinet ministers dropped alternative undersea cables, because they’re too expensive, time-consuming to put in place and raise environmental issues of their own.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) led its morning broadcasts with news that Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and his controversial Oil & Energy Minsiter Terje Riis-Johansen have decided to move forward with what opponents have called “monster masts” around the Hardanger Fjord. Riis-Johansen confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the government’s decision from last year to supply more power to the West Coast with overhead masts will stand.

“We believe there is no reason to change the decision from last year,” Riis-Johansen said. The new overhead power masts will be in place by the end of 2012, he said.

Storm of protest
The highly controversial project was delayed last summer when it set off a storm of protest and threats of civil disobedience, because of fears the masts will ruin the scenic landscape of Hardanger. Government officials promised to take another look at alternatives, including the undersea cables, while construction began on some masts at the western end of the route between Samnanger and Sima.

Opponents have continued to fight hard against the masts, urging their postponement and even claiming that the electricity they’d bring to Bergen and other west coast communities isn’t needed.

The government disagrees, and has noted that some opposition to the overhead power lines has died down recently. Local chapters of Stoltenberg’s own Labour Party have given in after initially opposing their own Labour-led government in Oslo, while some other opponents have resigned themselves to the need for more power supplies in the midst of another cold winter.

“It’s not defensible for me to postpone this,” Riis-Johansen told reporters. “We must have lasting measures to secure power supplies to Bergen.”

Compensation
Communities directly affected by the less-than-attractive masts towering over the mountain landscape have been promised at least NOK 100 million in support for new business, in part to defer potential losses to tourism in the area. Local politicians demanded NOK 500 million, but NRK reported Tuesday the amount is staying at NOK 100 million (about USD 16 million).

Efforts will also be made to make the masts to “blend into the environment” as well as possible, Riis-Johansen said. Proponents of undersea cables also faced environmental concerns over how they’d be routed, and in the end, it was determined they would cost around NOK 3.4 billion more than overhead lines and take five years longer to build.

The government announced its final decision on the Hardanger power issue Tuesday afternoon, right when many Norwegians were preoccupied with the men’s 15-kilometer race at the Nordic World Ski Championships taking place in the Norwegian capital as well. Finland ended up winning the gold, but Norway claimed the silver and bronze medals.

To see a new map showing where the masts will run, click here (external link, in Norwegian).

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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