Commentary: I have lived a long life within political journalism but have never seen a political construction similar to the power package the government served Finnmark and Northern Norway the other day. An act full of absurdities and paradoxes, but not without significance for the region.
Perhaps on the contrary.
Back in January 2021, I warned against the electrification of oil and gas production on the Norwegian continental shelf. This was before offshore wind power and windmills became a solution to everything but toothaches.
Back then, and that is only just over two years ago, there was a large-scale development of protected waterways that was supposed to provide enough electricity to greenwash the state's income for the oil fund.
A pandemic resistance
Since then, the resistance to electrification has grown to the closest you can get to a verbal pandemic in comments and comment sections.
And it really exploded when Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre presented the plans for the electrification of Melkøya on Tuesday this week.
Although, it exploded the day before the prime minister presented his plan for Finnmark, Northern Norway, Norway, and the rest of the world, as he said.
Arguments of the more absurd kind.
The protests came before anyone, apart from the political insiders who, therefore, wisely kept quiet, had seen the whole of the power package. In the Conservative Party, but especially in the Center Party, there were immediate protests. Local divisions in the north wanted to lie down in protest.
The Center Party had to withdraw from the government, and the exit was crowded as the party's members announced that they wanted to withdraw from the party.
The reactions to a proposal that no one knew anything about and which lay almost a decade ahead in time were almost panicky. The government party, the Center Party, emerged as a party more suitable for criticizing politics than doing politics.
A political life in an unaccountable opposition appeared far more attractive than a hand on the wheel when the future in the North was to be decided.
When Jonas Gahr Støre, together with SP leader and the Norwegian Minister of Finance Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, had presented the proposal in its entirety, most people crawled back into their caves and renewed both party membership and government participation.
In less than a day, political union representatives had presented themselves in a way that made the otherwise rabid comment sections that appear every time electricity prices are in focus appear as an elevated conversation.
A long line of paradoxes
PM State Jonas Gahr Støre claimed, for his part, from an improvised podium in Hammerfest that electrification of gas production on Melkøya was the biggest single climate measure any government had put forward.
From here, the paradoxes line up.
A clear message has been given that Finnmark is to be prioritized.
The day before Hammerfest, Støre visited a fire station in Skedsmo, some distance north of Oslo, to get closer to the ravages the storm "Hans" inflicted on the residents. Landslides, evacuation, flooding, and general fear. The prime minister explained to NRK why this happened:
"We will probably experience more of what we are seeing now. This is an effect of climate change with wilder and wetter weather in Norway," said Støre.
After another quick trip to Hammerfest, he returned to the storm to meet new flood victims. The reason was the same, climate change.
One of the biggest threats to the climate is precisely the use of fossil fuels. Between visits to evacuated flood victims, the prime minister managed to extend fossil fuel production by a few decades.
Had "Hans" directly resulted from gas production on Melkøya, electrification would undoubtedly have been a significant contribution. But to the extent that "Hans" results from the increased use of fossil fuels, the situation will be almost the same when the gas from Melkøya is ignited elsewhere in the world.
Contrary to everything
Extending the oil age, as Norway is now doing, is, in any case, contrary to all recommendations from international organizations that deal with this, such as the UN.
Russia's war against Ukraine is also a central point of the power package for Finnmark. By extending production at Melkøya, Norway is helping replace European dependence on Russian energy.
With a cocktail of war, energy deficit, and climate measures, the electrification of Melkøya and the extension of the "oil age" become a day of pride and joy for the government.
The latest resistance to electrification in the government's own ranks is met with arguments of the more absurd kind. The government promises that electricity will not become more expensive in Northern Norway as a result of the electrification, and thus causes some of the opponents to moan an almost sensual yes to the package.
Just as the government cannot determine the price of milk in eight to ten years, it cannot say something sensible about the cost of electricity in the north. The only reason such claims can still be served is the certainty that in ten years, someone entirely else will be in government, regardless of the election result.
In sum, then, a political plot of an almost otherworldly character.
But does that mean that you should immediately reject the power pack?
I don't think so, despite my continued resistance to electrification.
A new generation of politicians will rule the country
Because the other side of the package is about taking the energy crisis in Finnmark seriously. Not one kilowatt of electricity will be used on Melkøya until Finnmark's population and business sector are guaranteed sufficient grid capacity and energy. This is ensured by both the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister.
The package also clearly states that the government has realized the gravity of a part of the country bordering Russia.
A clear message has been given that Finnmark is to be prioritized when it comes to the development of the grid and power.
This alone illustrates what politics is all about, namely prioritizing. An immediate whiny protest from politicians from other parts of the country nevertheless shows that prioritization is an exercise that some of our parliamentary representatives do not master at all.
No sooner had Støre given notice to prioritize Finnmark than some politicians sprang out of caves further south, demanding that such prioritization must not be at the expense of other parts of the country.
Most people understand what prioritizing means, but to help elected officials with learning difficulties, a quote from my dictionary: Give priority to (something) (and thus opt out of something else).
That the current government will prioritize Finnmark and Northern Norway is both necessary and right.
On the contrary
When I conclude that the power package is good, it is also connected to the fact that it is in no way a guarantee for the electrification of Melkøya.
On the contrary.
The concession rounds will, in all probability, be too demanding to meet the required power requirements. And in 2030, hopefully, the war will be over and will no longer be used as an argument for continuing to put the globe ablaze.
If nothing else, a new generation of politicians with a greater understanding of the climate crisis will rule the country.
The most important thing in the package from the government is that it understands some of the seriousness that characterizes the development in the north. Even if the oil industry is currently cheering the loudest, the government deserves credit for its action, which will benefit Finnmark and Northern Norway.
Even when it takes a detour to get to the goal.
This commentary was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.