POWER TO THE PEOPLE: Furor at city’s ‘sudden’ 10-day cutoff of electricity to cabin dwellers at Hotellneset/Bjørndalen leads to delay, overnight outages on select days only

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Christoffer Spørck has a couple of freezers full of meat from hunting and other food in his cabin just outside town, plus a group of workers who are going to need heat when they begin painting and adding an extension to it soon. But things quickly turned rotten when he got a notice from the city Tuesday saying the electricity was being cut off for 10 working days – starting the next day.

He and a neighbor about 200 meters away, Einar Midthun, were among a multitude of people living in the seaside and valley area of Hotellneset/Bjørndalen, at the west outskirts of Longyearbyen, who immediately powered up a protest to municipal officials.

“They responded like ‘OK, if you have a cabin on Svalbard you should be prepared for this,'” Midthun said.

The city quickly relented – somewhat – by announcing within a day the shutoff would begin Monday. That still didn’t defuse Spørck’s complaints, saying that in addition to the questionable prospects of trying to store his freezer’s contents elsewhere on short notice he couldn’t literally leave his workers out in the cold.

“They need heat to paint and fix things,” he said. “It probably means somebody will have to be at home and make a fire in the stove to be warm.”

Advance notice or not, Midthun said the timing of the shutoff could be better.

“They could avoid this by planning it a little bit better, and doing it in June and July when it’s not 10 below zero,” he said.

Morten Snaprud, head of the city’s power management department, stated in an e-mail interview businesses were notified by e-mail about the outage April 21, but a glitch prevented those residing in cabins from getting similar notifications.

“A message was originally sent out to cabin owners with registered contact details,” he wrote. “However, an error occurred in the computer system, which meant that not all customers were notified and the notification came late.”

That provided a legitimate grounds to appeal the shutoff, which by Thursday resulted in plans for a much less impactful shutdown with the electricity shut off during overnight hours on select dates.

“To reduce the overall consequences for our customers the planned switch-off time has been changed to between 8 p.m. and and 6:30 a.m.,” a notice by the city states. “Switch-offs are planned on the evenings of May 9, 10, 11, 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25 and 26, with switch-on the following morning.”

The work is part of a replacement of the city’s aging power grid, and the overhead line between the power plant and Hotellneset needs to disconnected during the portion, the notice states. As for waiting until summer, “the work requires heavy machinery in the terrain, and must be completed before the snow has melted and the ground has thawed.”