Norway’s state oil and energy company Equinor was winning widespread and unusual praise on Wednesday from environmental organizations and politicians, after it announced plans for an offshore wind park. The goal is for huge windmills to provide power to the Gullfaks and Snorre oil fields, with the state picking up much of the bill.
Equinor and its partners on the Gullfaks and Snorre fields have decided “to explore the possibilities” of such a project. It would mark the first time an offshore wind farm is directly connected to oil and gas platforms.
Supplies of wind power would cut carbon emissions from the gas that currently powers platforms by more than 200,000 tons a year, Equinor claimed, That’s equivalent to the emissions from 100,000 cars. No firm decisions have been made, and officials at Equinor (formerly Statoil) admitted the project was “challenging” in addition to being innovative, but environmental advocates and politicians were enthusiastic.
Norway’s Oil and Energy Minister Terje Søviknes of the Progress Party, better known for his bullishness on the oil industry than climate concerns, found the idea of pumping oil with wind power “hugely exciting.” He conceded to newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that the gas currently used to power platforms would likely merely “burn someplace else,” but he sees no reason why “floating offshore wind power” can’t “have the same development as it’s had on land.” Equinor has been a pioneer in capturing offshore wind power for sale to the UK, for example, and is at the forefront of offshore wind technology in general.
Søviknes also noted that the project, called Hywind Tampen, can be a catalyst for technological development of offshore windmills. “If there’s a spot Norway can take a position within renewable energy, it’s within floating wind power,” Søviknes told DN.
Espen Barth Eide, energy policy spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, was also enthusiastic. He told DN that the project can boost Equinor’s legitimacy at a time when many are raising questions and objecting to all its climate-unfriendly oil and gas activity on the Norwegian Continental Shelf.
“This is part of Equinor’s license to operate,” Eide told DN. It also seemed to encourage and appease environmental and climate activists who have long blasted Statoil’s zeal to keep drilling for more oil and gas. The company also announced plans to drill as many as 3,000 more wells off the Norwegian coast in the hunt for more gas.
Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbundet) has already insisted that Norway must cut its carbon emissions by half in order to take its “fair share” of necessary cuts worldwide. Offshore wind projects can contribute to that. “We look forward to this,” Marius Holm, leader of the climate organization Zero, told DN in referring to Equinor’s plan. Holm stressed that the project, though, will need enough scale to have an impact. Costs will be also be high, with Equinor expecting the state (which owns 67 percent of Equinor’s shares) to cover much of them.
Initial estimates call for as much as NOK 5 billion (USD 609 million) to develop and get the wind turbines in place. Equinor is asking the state’s climate technology company Enova to cover half of that, with another NOK 566 million coming from a state investment fund built up through the fees industrial companies pay for NOx emissions.
Søviknes wouldn’t comment on Equinor’s chances for securing so much state support. The largest allotment for a single project ever made by Enova, for example, was NOK 1.5 billion for Hydro’s aluminum technology pilot project at its plant on Karmøy. Olav Bernt Haga, project leader for Equinor, said that costs must decline in order for its partners to accept their own share. More decisions are due next year.