WWF damns power company’s plan to drain great river

The destruction of a unique ecosystem lies in the balance as corporate lobbyists threaten the protection of one of Norway's greatest and most biodiversity-rich rivers.

Norway’s largest electricity company, Statkraft, has unveiled its plans to dam the Vefsna River and drill giant tunnels to drain it for a hydropower development further in the north.

The Vefsna is one of 14 rivers that Nordic Council Ministers have been advising the Norwegian Parliament to protect since 1992. However, intensive lobbying by power company Statkraft has left the Vefsna and its unique ecosystem exposed to exploitation.

Spokesman for Statkraft, Torbjorn Steen, told edie that the Vefsna’s proximity to the Rossaga power plants meant the project would not require any new reservoirs, dams, power stations or transmission lines.

“Provisional reports confirm that this project does not affect the environment to any great degree, has major positive socio-economic effects, both regionally and nationally, and will provide 1.5 TWh of renewable energy,” he said.

However, the EU clearly considers the river to be a vulnerable conservation area, as the half of the Vefsna that runs through Sweden is already protected under the EU’s Natura 2000 programme.

But despite this, it is still the last of the rivers included on the Nordic Council’s list to remain unprotected.

As well as providing a home to large populations of trout, the Vefsna provides Norway’s second largest spawning ground for the threatened wild Atlantic salmon, which would be destroyed if Statkraft went ahead with their plan to dam and drain the river.

The hydropower project would also impact upon local populations of the endangered Arctic fox, with only around 50 now living in Norway, as well as threatening nearby endangered traditional Sami reindeer herding grounds.

Norwegian Parliament must decide on 1 February whether it will pronounce the area protected or not. International conservation organisation WWF is urging it to protect the Vefsna and not give in to corporate lobbying.

European Economic Area (EEA) advisor for WWF-Norway, Rasmus Reinvang, told edie that the Norwegian government should not be able to jeopardise the river’s biodiversity when the EU had shown its feelings that the Vefsna should be recognised as a ecological hotspot.

“Norway benefits from being a member of the EEA, allowing Norwegian companies access to the EU internal market, yet it has a pick-and-choose policy when it comes to European environmental legislation,” he pointed out.

“Statkraft and the Norwegian government should not be able to sell power to European countries while ignoring European environmental law.”

The Norwegian government’s own environmental specialists have also stated that they believe the Vefsna should be protected, and gave the river a top rating in a recent survey that considered the cultural, biological, fishing and recreational value of the country’s rivers.

Moreover, they estimated the economic potential of a protected Vefsna to be in excess of €7.5 million in one year, supporting a range of local livelihoods.

“This hydropower project will suck the life out of the Vefsna, robbing it of almost all its natural water flow in pristine sections of the river, and will have serious impacts on people and nature,” head of WWF-Norway, Rasmus Hannson warned.

“The Norwegian government must say no to Statkraft and give greater protection to this mighty river.”

By Jane Kettle

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