- Scrapping the submarine cable opportunity as a potential power supply source to Svalbard without a feasibility study is quite remarkable.
Those are the words of Dag Ivar Brekke, former deputy director of Store Norske Spitsbergen Kullkompani (SNSK, the Svalbard coalmining company) in an interview with High North News.
Brekke, who lived in Svalbard for about 12 years, was Deputy Director of SNSK from 2006 to 2008 and again from 2009 to 2011. He is focused on the debate about future energy supply for Svalbard and pays close attention to it.
Coal import to Svalbard?
- It is hard to understand how the Ministry of Oil and Energy can just dismiss the submarine cable option before even starting a feasibility study of the various alternatives for such supply, says Dag Ivar Brekke.
As HNN earlier wrote, a paradoxical situation may arise in which coal has to be imported to Svalbard in order to keep power supply running following the emptying of mine 7.
Stortinget, the Norwegian parliament, has requested that the government starts exploring the future energy situation at Svalbard at its earliest convenience and last December the Ministry of Oil and Energy reported that:
“The Department is in the final phases of its internal preparation work and the investigation will commence as soon as possible.”
In other words, the investigation has not started yet.
Submarine Cable via Johan Castberg?
Dag Ivar Brekke is astonished that the Department at the same time buries one of the alternative options, namely a submarine cable to Svalbard from Finnmark and possibly via the Johan Castberg petroleum field.
Then-Minister of Oil and Energy, Tord Lien, argued in November 2016 that a submarine cable would be too costly.
In the 2017 revised national budget the government repeats the argument that a submarine cable would be too costly, vulnerable for errors, and also argues that expanding the power grid to reach all settlements on the islands is hardly likely to happen due to nature protection considerations.
“Constructing a submarine power cable from the mainland to Longyearbyen will thus not constitute an option for the power supply of the entire archipelago”, the revised budget reads.
- I think it is odd that this option is dismissed along with arguments also applying to other options. With such flawed arguments, the alternative is bound to resurface if it is not investigated properly once and for all, says Brekke.
- I am not fixated on one alternative; however, a submarine cable would be able to secure high-capacity energy to Svalbard and also ensure stability in this provision. The world is going electric whether we want to or not, and Norway has a lot of renewable energy. Local solutions may work well, however, there is the risk of their being constructed too limited and adjusted o the population development desired. A high level of R&D also has a tendency to increase risk, Brekke argues.
Still fossil energy sources
He also stresses that many of the local solutions suggested for Svalbard are tech-heavy, not yet fully developed and will most likely have to be combined with fossil fuel sources.
- This applies both to wind and solar energy solutions. Hydrogen is exciting, however, to my knowledge there is still a way to go until we have a marked for hydrogen as a competitive source of fuel. The transportation options are not fully developed and the gradual effect for hydrogen fuel cells is still low. Furthermore, most of the world’s hydrogen is produced from natural gas and does not provide renewable solution without carbon handling and storing.
Dag Ivar Brekke also points to the political aspect of choosing energy source for Svalbard.
- Heavy, long-term investments may be an efficient and strong way of demonstrating ownership. It demonstrates to the world as well as local inhabitants that Norway has a long-term perspective on its Svalbard management.
A submarine cable may be expensive, however, it may also be a clear signal of strong and long-term will, Brekke argues.
- The government argues that preservation considerations prevents construction of land-based power lines to the other settlements if a submarine cable should lead to Longyearbyen?
Potential for local cooperation development
- I would argue that this has to be weighed up against the environmental consequences of local energy production. Land-based power lines will hardly lead to giant masts [like Statnett has built some places on the Norwegian mainland], but rather like power transfer cables often seen between small communities on the mainland. It should further be possible to lead a submarine cable for instance from Hotellneset to Cape Heer and further up to Barentsburg, which would eliminate the need there for burning coal.
That would represent an excellent opportunity to develop the local cooperation between Norway and Russia on Svalbard. Ny Ålesund could be supplied from a potential power cable hook-on at Isfjord Radio, Brekke argues.
Must explore all options
His argument is, nevertheless, that all these elements belong in a study of future power supply for Svalbard.
- All options should be investigated at the same time. A submarine cable has been discussed already, even in the revised national budget. To state it simply, it is hard to understand why the government is trying to avoid this alternative for future power supply to Svalbard, says Dag Ivar Brekke.
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