Coal power plant to heat Arctic for yet another year

The coal power plant in Longyearbyen on Norway's Svalbard archipelago.

Longyearbyen’s aging coal-fired power plant will remain open for at least one more year.


Longyearbyen’s aging coal-fired power plant will remain open for at least one more year.

The Norwegian government on Monday announced it would give the state-run facility, which provides heat and electricity to Svalbard’s largest town, NOK 15 million (€2 million) to pay for operations through fiscal year 2014. 

The funding was part of next year’s NOK 1,295-billion (€160 billion) national budget, which Parliament is expected to approve sometime later this year.

The news did not surprise local officials who have been lobbying Oslo for funding to keep Norway’s only coal-fired power plant afloat.

“We expected to receive enough money to fund the power plant through the end of next year,” said Longyearbyen Mayor Christin Kristoffersen. 

But the stopgap plan does not address long-term needs at the plant, which was built in 1983 and has suffered a series of problems in recent years as it nears the end of its lifespan. 

In 2012, an equipment failure shuttered the plant for nearly two hours, temporarily leaving the residents of Longyearbyen – the world’s northernmost town, where winter temperatures often drop to -25 C – without heat and power.

In another incident last year, a portion of the plant’s roof caught on fire. The damage was quickly controlled, but the December 7 fire highlighted the facility’s advanced age and myriad maintenance issues.

“We have to get a new plant,” said Hugo Olsen, the facility’s production manager. “It’s old and it’s costing a lot of money to maintain.”

What to do with the plant remains a matter of debate.

The government is considering spending approximately NOK 270 million (€33 million) to upgrade the plant, which would extend its lifespan by 25 years.

Another, more expensive plan calls for replacing the existing facility with a new plant that would cost anywhere between NOK 1-3 billion.

Kristofferson said she is in negotiations with the government on a long-term deal, but cautioned that a final agreement might not come until 2015 at the earliest.

The plant burns 22,000 tons of coal each year from two mines on Svalbard. The facility produced 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions last year, according to Olsen.

The funding for Longyearbyen’s power plant was part of a larger, NOK 2.5 billion allocation to the High North that was included in next year’s budget.

The funds include an NOK 45 million grant to expand a geodetic observatory in Ny-Ålesund, NOK 50 million for a new health and medical studies building at the University of Tromsø, and NOK 130 million to increase geological surveying in the Norwegian sector of the eastern Barents Sea.