NORWAY: Parliament in crisis over gas-fired power plants

Norway's coalition government has received an ultimatum from the Labour and Conservative opposition parties demanding that it approve the construction of five gas-fired power plants. Such a move would go against the Government's climate change policy.

A parliamentary crisis is raging in Norway over the opposition parties’ ultimatum and a vote of non-confidence in the Government is a possibility. Labour and the Conservatives want to see the Government abandon its moratorium on the construction of power plants – something the ruling parties agreed several years ago as part of their commitment to meeting Kyoto Protocol targets.

“One of the arguments [being used by Labour and the Conservatives] is that a gas-fired power plant would substitute coal-fired power imported from Denmark,” an official at the Pollution Control Authority (SFT) told edie. But, according to the official, this argument is not watertight. Most years, Norway imports electricity from Sweden and Finland, not from coal-fired power plants in Denmark. Sweden does not use coal to generate electricity and while Finland does, coal-fired power plants are not a dominant feature of its electricity generation.

The SFT official acknowledges that Norway’s electricity consumption is rising – the aluminium smelting, ferrous alloy and domestic consumption sectors in particular – but questions whether building more power plants is the answer.

“One of the arguments of environmental groups is that instead of building gas-fired power plants you should go for a higher price for electricity – that would reduce consumption,” says the official. A few years ago exactly that happened. Unusually low rainfall led to lower electricity generation in Norway – the country generates much of its electricity hydro-electrically – and it was forced to import heavily from Denmark at high prices. The high price of electricity subsequently led to a noticeable drop in consumption.

At this stage no one knows whether the Government will abandon its moratorium on gas-fired power plants. Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik has admitted that the situation is serious and that it could topple his Government.

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