February freeze turns expensive

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Norway’s already record-high electricity rates rose even higher this week as thermometers fell all over the country. Hardly any temperatures above the freezing point have been recorded in recent days, making the winter wonderland not so wonderful after all.

Scenes like this have become common all over country, as cold but clear weather continues for the second week in a row following lots of snow in January. This photo was taken of a frozen marsh in Nordmarka, the forested area just north of Oslo. PHOTO: NewsInEnglish.no/Morten Møst

Skiers and skaters have been out enjoying one of the coldest winters in years. Some can’t recall such a long stint of blue skies, brilliant sunshine and double-digit temperatures below zero since the Olympics at Lillehammer in 1994.

It’s simply been one bright, cold day after another, following heavy snowfall in Southern Norway in January. In Northern Norway the situation is somewhat reverse: Troms and Finnmark were being clobbered by lots of snow this week, while the sun just kept shining and temperatures stayed low farther south, even along the southwest coast at Rogaland, where people have literally been skiing on the beaches at Jæren and skating on frozen lakes in Stavanger.

The downside is the price of electricity used to heat most homes, especially at a time when so many people are working from home and can’t lower the thermostat like they would when heading for the office. Rates hit what had been record highs earlier this month. Now those records are being broken again, and concern is rising over the consequences for those with low incomes.

Electricity rates in Oslo are the highest since February 2010, hitting around NOK 2.45 per kilowatt hour this week, according to power market Nord Pool. That compares to just NOK 0.29 in December, when temperatures were mild and lots of rain had filled reservoirs used for hydroelectric power.

Skiers can at least enjoy the snow and sharply groomed trails, like here in the area around Mylla in Nordmarka. PHOTO: NewsInEnglish.no/Morten Møst

Now, even though power plants are working at full capacity, demand is outstripping supply. At the same time, there’s been hardly any wind so not much electricity is being produced by much-hated turbines that have been unusually still.

It’s all come as a bit of an electric shock for Norwegians long spoiled by their hydroelectric resources and the lowest electricity rates in Europe. Rates were also record low last year, so seeing the actual power portion of monthly bills skyrocketing from, for example, NOK 400 for an apartment in Oslo last fall to more than NOK 2,000 can be unsettling. In addition comes the so-called nettleie cost of electricity distribution around Norway.

“I’m worried about those with the lowest pension incomes who are sitting at home alone, wrapped up in blankets and trying to save electricity because they’re afraid they won’t be able to pay their bills,” Gry Anette Rekanes Amundsen, a Progress Party politician in Telemark, told state broadcaster NRK. She thinks local utility Midt-Telemark Energi, for example, should lower distribution costs for as long as the cold snap lasts. Some companies are already offering to redistribute February bills over later months, to spread out payment.

High electricity bills were also the topic of debate on NRK’s popular program Debatten Thursday evening, during which the program’s host publicly displayed his own combined bill for power and its distribution of more than NOK 3,000 (USD 360) for the month of February alone. Electricity companies that have popped up since deregulation of the industry were also criticized for luring customers with promises of low rates but only for a short period, jacking them up again later without warning. Consumers were urged to pay more attention to their bills, which can appear complicated and also contain lots of taxes and fees, and switch suppliers if they’re unhappy.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund