Power hungry: 20 witnesses detail Svalbard’s future needs during Parliament hearing on revised ‘white paper’


It’s a long wish list and not exactly new, but now it’s officially on the agenda of the deciders.

An underwater power cable from the mainland, revised air traffic regulations, speeding up development of the fishing industry, investing heavily in infrastructure and figuring out what to do with Store Norske were among the many items presented by 20 witnesses last week during a hearing by Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The hearing was to help finalize a revised “white paper” defining Norway’s policy goals for Svalbard, which the committee is expected to finalize Oct. 26. The full Parliament is schedule to take up the matter Nov. 22.

“My main takeaway from the hearing today: Longyearbyen is handling a situation where Store Norske is downsizing in a good way,” Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen wrote in a Facebook post after the meeting. “The population is increasing and the activity level in different industries is high. At the same time, we have a big and challenging scenario which essentially revolves around future financing and safeguarding of Longyearbyen’s population. If we are to take on the heavy tasks ahead in a fast and efficient manner the local government should be given more power, authority and capital.”

Including the subsea power cable in the white paper was advocated by Havard Devold, chief technology officer for AAB Norway, who cited the environmental benefits.

“The local generation of energy often has relatively low investment costs, but high emissions,” he told the committee, according to Svalbardposten. “When it comes to cable connection to the mainland is the reverse. Here you get high investment costs but low emissions.”

Other proponents of the cable also argue it is a practical long-term solution as Longyearbyen’s coal supplies tap out. But local officials have also expressed concern about the reliability of such a cable and state a local power plant is therefore needed in any event.

While many are seeking changes to regulations at the airport, there are huge contrasts in the requests.

Visit Svalbard Director Ronny Brunvoll, for example, of changing regulations at Svalbard Airport said there are too many restrictions that limit tourist traffic. But the paper and many officials are urging tighter security measures to keep better track of who’s visiting – and the government is expected to approve an extra seven million kroner for extra officers when it presents its proposed budget on Thursday.

Terje Aunevik, head of the Svalbard Business Association, urged Parliament members to provide more specifics in defining Store Norske’s future and to put an emphasis on the fishing industry.

“In our opinion the fishing industry will become the new industrial engine of Svalbard,” he said. “The pace of the spread of new species such as snow crab will allow these opportunities to materialize soon.”