While Norwegian authorities are planning to shut down the coal plant in Longyearbyen, Longyearbyen Local Council wants to open up the old energy plant from 1920 for the public.
Next to Longyearbyen coal plant’s 96-meters tall pipe is a small, green building that almost blends in with its surroundings. This building is home to energy and coalmine history from the period 1920-1983, when the current energy plant took over.
Now, Longyearbyen Local Council and LPO Architects work together to make the old coal plant a storyteller and an arena for communication.
“Longyearbyen has Norway’s only remining coal plant. The old plant has been left untouched since it was shut down in 1983. It is as authentic as it gets and constitutes an important part of Svalbard’s history. With time, the energy plant became a precondition for coalmining”, says Jan Myhre, Property Manager of the local council.
Preserving the building and the coal power history is further actualized when Local Council leader Arild Olsen in Longyearbyen LC wants to phase out the current coal plant by 2023 to save money and the environment. Today, the old plant hums alongside the new one.
Longyearbyen Local Council and LPO Architects have received a total of NOK 900,000 in support from the Directorate for Cultural Heritage and the Svalbard Environmental Fund.
Some of the money is now spent on a pre-project that is to be finalized by Christmas, looking into what the building may be used for in the future. The two most important purposes will most likely be communicating energy history and using the building as a cultural arena.
As for the first part, communicating history, the local council is currently in dialogue with local mining company Store Norske regarding whether or not the energy plant should enter the same organizational format as Mine 3.
The old mine above Longyearbyen airport has been transformed into a museum with guided tours organized by the mining company.
“We will probably facilitate guided tours one way or the other. Perhaps it would be possible to create a tour starting in Mine 3, continuing to the tow-cableway central and then ending at the energy plant or perhaps the museum. We could make a day trip of it”, Myhre says.
He envisions cultural events like a literature festival, theatre performances and other events fitting into the format of the building.
Last month, the energy plant received NOK 400,000 from the Svalbard Environmental Fund. It will be spent on securing roofs, windows, and drainage around the building.
“The energy plant is built on rocks, solid and well. We see no sign of problems with the building itself. That simplifies the project”, Myhre says.
They will also have to control the building for asbestos.
“There is asbestos, but that is not a problem as long as we do not touch it. I am not very worried about that”, the property manager says.
The basement is filled with ice following meltwater seeping in and later being cooled down by the permafrost. The property wants to leave the ice be in order to not make the building more unstable.
Last month, LPO Architects had a pilot tour of the building in order to receive input for the remaining work. Myhre will not exclude the possibility for the first guests to come in and experience energy history as early as the coming spring.
“We will have to see where we set the bar. Perhaps we can collect two barracks from Svea to use as heating rooms. It is all about making it easy”, he says.