Populist opposition to interconnector is a threat to our climate

You would think that these days everyone would applaud an initiative to reduce the impact that millions of people have on the climate. That helping one of Norway’s most important industries to create more value would receive the enthusiastic support of a united parliament.

But no. Instead, the NorthConnect interconnector, which is currently having its licence application assessed, has become a hate figure in an ideological war.  

Let me start by saying a bit about what NorthConnect is and isn’t, because the campaign against the project is almost entirely based on deliberate misrepresentations.  

We will be able to sell the electricity generated by hydroelectric power stations when it is appropriate, and import wind power when appropriate.  

NorthConnect is not an export cable, as the Red Party and Centre Party claim. It is an interconnector between Norway and Scotland, and electricity will be exchanged through it in both directions as necessary. We will be able to sell the electricity generated by hydroelectric power stations when it is appropriate, and import wind power when appropriate. Scotland’s wind farms generate 20 TWh each year, which is more than half of Scotland’s total electricity generation of just over 36 TWh.  

NorthConnect will make a big contribution to the battle against climate change, as opposed to what its critics say. It isn’t easy to store electricity. When the wind isn’t blowing, wind power in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe is replaced with electricity generated from fossil fuels or nuclear power. NorthConnect will allow Scottish wind farms to be backed up by Norwegian hydropower instead. That will give almost 10 million people in the UK access to clean electricity. Almost fifteen percent of the UK’s population. According to the British electricity system operator National Grid, NorthConnect may cut CO2 emissions in the UK by around 2 million tonnes. That is equivalent to the emissions of one million cars, approximately 40% of the cars in Norway, each and every year. It is almost three times the reduction in CO2 emissions achieved by the acclaimed electrification of the Johan Sverdrup oil field.  

NorthConnect has no private shareholders.  

It is not a “private cable” that siphons off value from our common resources, as is frequently claimed. The project belongs to three Norwegian regional electricity companies, which are all completely publicly owned. The other shareholder is Vattenfall, which is owned by the Swedish state. NorthConnect has no private shareholders. Statnett has also been invited to become a shareholder, an idea that has the support of most members of parliament. In other words, regardless of what Statnett does, the value that the current shareholders want to unlock will benefit society as a whole.  

It is completely untrue that NorthConnect will “hoover up the electricity in Western Norway” at the expense of Norwegian industry, as Bjørnar Moxnes of the Red Party claims. Hydroelectric power doesn’t have a limited production run that can be “hoovered up” or become sold out. Hydropower is generated continuously. At times, reservoir levels may be low, but that isn’t due to electricity exports. It is due to a combination of dry years and cold winters, but in those circumstances we fortunately have interconnectors that allow us to import the extra electricity that we need. It has never occurred, and will never occur, that companies refuse to sign power purchase agreements with industrial customers due to a lack of electricity. All of the Norwegian electric utility companies and the electricity market in which we operate have more than enough electricity available.  

It is also claimed that NorthConnect will import British electricity prices, thereby killing off large swathes of Norway’s energy-intensive industry. Perhaps the critics don’t know that these companies normally have long-term power purchase agreements, as well as exemptions and compensation schemes that leave them less exposed to fluctuations in electricity prices.  

Of course we want more industry, not less.  

Here it is worth remembering that the Norwegian electric power industry is one of Norway’s most important industries. It makes the biggest contribution to the mainland economy’s gross value added and employs around 20,000 people. One of our biggest markets is industrial companies that use a lot of electricity. In fact, they consume around a third of all of the electricity that our industry generates. When members of parliament insist that we are trying to wipe out our biggest customers by promoting interconnectors, they are guilty of absurd populism. Of course we want more industry, not less. 

It is true that interconnectors do have an impact on electricity prices in Norway. We are already connected to the European energy market by five undersea cables, and more are being built. That means we are affected by fluctuations in European electricity prices. For example, if the price of CO2 quotas rises it also affects us, and as such we import the effects of a successful European climate change policy. On the other hand, in 2018 the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) published an analysis showing that without interconnectors Norwegian electricity prices would be two or three times higher in winter.  

It is sensible and legitimate to have a public debate about energy policy in general, and interconnectors in particular. But the debate must be based on facts, and not on ideologically driven conspiracy theories, and shouldn’t be used as a vehicle for opposition to the EEA Agreement.