Norway’s Labour-led minority government had to give in once again to demands from the Socialist Left Party (SV) on Friday. All three party leaders were satisfied, though, when they presented an “even better” proposal to offset record-high electricity bills.
“I’m very glad that Labour, the Center Party and SV have agreed on a powerful electricity package that will give people (energy) security through the winter,” declared Member of Parliament Terje Aasland, Labour’s spokesman on energy and environmental issues, after an all-night negotiating session. “Now folks can head into Christmas with fewer worries, knowing that our solidarity will come to our aid.”
The government ended up sweetening its earlier energy aid proposal to the tune of NOK 1.125 billion. An extra NOK 460 million (USD 51 million) will boost the automatic deductions due to show up on January electricity bills for consumption in December. Instead of receiving a 50 percent discount on charges for excessively high rates, households will now get 55 percent.
Another NOK 200 million will be allocated to local governments to boost social welfare payments to those most in need, with an additional NOK 465 million for cost-of-living support in January, February and March.
The government also ordered postponement of power companies’ implementation of a new system for charging for distribution of electricity, called nettleie. It was due to begin January 1st, and is widely expected to further add to consumers’ bills: Power companies aim to charge more for electricity during peak periods of usage (late afternoon and early evening, for example) and less during periods of low usage (in the middle of the night).
The goal is get Norwegians to spread their consumption of electricity throughout the day’s 24 hours, making it cheaper to charge electric cars, for example, late at night, or not to use a coffee-maker and run a washing machine at the same time. Hytte owners are expected to get clobbered by higher bills, with rates lowered only between 10pm and 6am according to the plans of some electricity providers like Glitre Energi. That means electricity from 6am to 10pm is likely to cost even more than it already does.
Now the new system won’t phase in until the spring, according to MP Lars Haltbrekken of SV. “That’s important, since the new system presents lots of unanswered questions for many,” Haltbrekken said. He was referring to fears of not only sky-high rates for the actual electricity through the winter, but also even higher rates for its distribution.
Power companies, which recently have been sending out information and new pricing to customers, immediately protested, claiming it was “too late” to postpone the program now. Others claimed the power branch was obliged to follow the will of the Parliament, where Labour, Center and SV now have a majority and most other parties are likely to support the energy aid measures, too.