ANALYSIS - Norway govt keen to get clean gas power
OSLO - Norway\'s prime minister, back at the helm after resigning almost two years ago over fossil-fuelled power plants, has taken a new tack to convince industry not to pollute.
Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and his new centre-right coalition have created a working group aimed at convincing the energy industry to think twice before building power plants that would emit carbon dioxide (CO2), widely blamed for climate change.
\"The purpose is to make the vision that we have had for a long time about gas power plants without CO2 emissions a real one,\" Oeyvind Haabrekke, a political adviser to Oil and Energy Minister Einar Steensnaes, told Reuters.
\"We want to establish conditiions that will make the most environmental solution possible and profitable to realise. But of course the companies have all the permits they need, so the final decisions are in their hands,\" he said.
Despite the three-party minority government coming to power after elections in September, the industry has the final word for building gas-fired power plants since winning support last year from the former Labour government.
Norway, teeming with rivers, lakes and reservoirs, produces virtually all of its electricity from clean hydropower plants or imports power from neighbouring countries generating electricity from other energy sources like coal and nuclear.
The battle between Bondevik and Labour over gas-based power plants has to do with whether Norway should focus on curbing its own CO2 emissions or help reduce emissions elsewhere by relying less on power imports amid a growing demand for electricity.
Norway has pledged to ratify the 1997 Kyoto global climate treaty and faces a big challenge to cut its own greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 due to robust offshore oil production.
NOT JUST RHETORIC
Frederic Hauge, president of Norwegian environmental organisation Bellona, reckons the message passed down from Bondevik is not just hot air to ease public concerns over emitting more CO2 by enlarging domestic electricity ouput.
\"The new government has true ambitions on this issue,\" he said, adding that climate change could be significantly reduced by removing carbon from fossil fuels.
Bellona and the government urge Norwegian companies Industrikraft Midt-Norge and Naturkraft, which plan to build at least three gas-fired power plants in Norway, to reconsider alternative methods.
But alternative methods like depositing the CO2 via pipes from the plants into underwater aquifers, porous rock that yields water, or into oil reservoirs to help extraction have so far been deemed uneconomical by the companies.
\"We have evaluated all scenarios and project proposals which have been put forward and all are noncommercial for the time being,\" said Steinar Bysveen, managing director at Industrikraft Midt-Norge.
\"The investment costs are too high and it is also quite a challenge to get the CO2 deposited in a safe way for 20 years,\" he said, explaining that there was no guarantee the oil fields could take all of the CO2 for a 20-25 year period.
Industrikraft\'s planned 800-megawatt power station at Skogn has an emission allowance to emit 2.2 million tonnes of CO2 per year. Construction is slated to start around mid-2002 with a planned start-up late in 2004.
Bysveen reckons the current market price for electricity is adequate enough to get the plant going.
Yet Hauge said he would try to block the construction of a conventional gas-fired power plant, because pollution-free technology was economically feasible so long as the plants were located in areas near oil reserves.
Norway\'s government earlier this week recruited a former Bellona member to its new working group to help keep an open dialogue with industry. The result could be the country\'s first gas-fired power plant that is friendly to the environment.
\"The answer to build conventional gas-fired power plants might be \'yes\', the answer might be \'no\', or the answer might be to wait for a year or two to see the development of technology and the cost structure for environmental solutions,\" Haabrekke said.
Story by Jeff Coelho
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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