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Home* News and Stories → Lon­gye­ar­by­en has got the power

Lon­gye­ar­by­en has got the power

Lon­gye­ar­by­en and its power: a never-ending sto­ry. This is not about hig­her powers, it is about elec­tri­ci­ty and long-distance hea­ting. But this is enough to wri­te a book about in this litt­le town in Advent­fjord (not for me as an aut­hor, thanks).

As visi­tors of this web­site will pro­ba­b­ly know (have a look here for a quick refres­her), Longyearbyen’s power sup­p­ly was based on coal for more than a cen­tu­ry. Last autumn, coal was repla­ced with die­sel. This is a tem­po­ra­ry solu­ti­on only, the idea is to install some­thing more envi­ron­men­tal­ly fri­end­ly, ide­al­ly wit­hout CO2-emis­si­ons. But nobo­dy knows what exact­ly this should be alt­hough it is a ques­ti­on that has been deba­ted for years alre­a­dy. The idea of a nuclear power plant for this town with 2500 inha­bi­tants has recent­ly sur­faced again in a let­ter to the edi­tor of Sval­bard­pos­ten, the local news­pa­per.

Power plant Longyearbyen

The Power plant in Lon­gye­ar­by­en sup­pli­es peo­p­le with elec­tri­ci­ty, long-distance hea­ting and con­ver­sa­ti­on topics.

Tech­ni­cal issues and capa­ci­ty worries

The ope­ra­ti­on of the new die­sel gene­ra­tors, howe­ver, tur­ned out to be any­thing but smooth. The­re have been tech­ni­cal issues more than once, inclu­ding a hava­ry of one of the engi­nes that was simi­lar to an explo­si­on. One man got a good share of oil and engi­ne parts from short distance. Lucki­ly, he did not recei­ve any serious inju­ries. Major cus­to­mers who have got their own emer­gen­cy power sys­tems such as mine 7, the last coal mine near Lon­gye­ar­by­en still in ope­ra­ti­on, and KSat (the ope­ra­tor of the satel­li­te anten­nas on Pla­tå­berg) have been asked to use their capa­ci­ties to redu­ce the bur­den on Longyearbyen’s power plant.

Help from the Nor­we­gi­an mili­ta­ry

A few weeks ago, Sys­sel­mes­ter (gover­nor) Lars Fau­se deci­ded that Longyearbyen’s power sup­p­ly sys­tem was not good enough, espe­ci­al­ly in the­se times of cold tem­pe­ra­tures, and he asked the Nor­we­gi­an mili­ta­ry for help. They have capa­ci­ties to set up a power sup­p­ly sys­tem any­whe­re on short war­ning, and that is just what they did in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The mili­ta­ry gene­ra­tors now ser­ve as a back­up sys­tem in case the ori­gi­nal sys­tem should expe­ri­ence major trou­bles, it is not inten­ded to be used. But this is only a tem­po­ra­ry back­up and not a per­ma­nent solu­ti­on.

The Nor­we­gi­an air­force was heard say­ing that they could evacua­te Lon­gye­ar­by­en quick­ly at any time if nee­ded. This rather dra­stic mea­su­re could come into play in the event of a major inter­rup­ti­on of Longyearbyen’s power sup­p­ly, some­thing that could quick­ly lead to a dan­ge­rous situa­ti­on espe­ci­al­ly in the cold sea­son. Tem­pe­ra­tures have recent­ly often been under -20°C, and most hou­ses are poor­ly insu­la­ted. And almost all buil­dings in Lon­gye­ar­by­en rely on distant hea­ting. A col­lap­se of the distant hea­ting sys­tem would soon serious­ly affect the water sup­p­ly, which in its­elf is chal­len­ging enough even when hea­ting and power are no pro­blem. We have seen enough of that in recent weeks.

Pri­ce increase to be expec­ted

Nobo­dy knows for sure what Longyearbyen’s power sup­p­ly of the future will look like. But the­re is litt­le doubt that it will be expen­si­ve. Litt­le Lon­gye­ar­by­en will hard­ly be able to pay the bill on its own and finan­cial aid from Oslo is likely to play a major role. Nevert­hel­ess, an increase in pri­ces is expec­ted (they are tal­king about this while I am wri­ting) – start­ing on a level that is alre­a­dy pret­ty high.

Die­sel power plant wit­hout per­mis­si­on

To make things even “bet­ter”, the die­sel power plant that is now in ope­ra­ti­on is run­ning wit­hout the neces­sa­ry per­mis­si­ons. The ope­ra­tor, a com­pa­ny owned by the com­mu­ni­ty, appears to have assu­med that the old licen­se for the coal power plant would be suf­fi­ci­ent also for the die­sel gene­ra­tors, also based on the assump­ti­on that emis­si­ons would now be lower. The­re appears to be some uncer­tain­ty about wether or not this is actual­ly the case, but hig­her aut­ho­ri­ties have now made it clear that the ope­ra­ti­on of the power plant requi­res per­mis­si­on which is not yet in place. At least, aut­ho­ri­ties have remark­ed that the­re is awa­re­ness of the importance of the power plant for Lon­gye­ar­by­en and a forced shut­down is not to be expec­ted on short noti­ce (but theo­re­ti­cal­ly pos­si­ble).

Power plant Longyearbyen

Longyearbyen’s power plant: “lega­li­se it” 😅
With a subt­le hint to an enti­re­ly dif­fe­rent deba­te.
Pho­to­mon­ta­ge by Wol­fang Hüb­ner-Zach, wit­hout any per­so­nal inte­rest in the mat­ter that is added to the ori­gi­nal pho­to.

Rea­dy for yet ano­ther fun fact? The­re was a die­sel power plant in Sveagru­va, the for­mer mining sett­le­ment in Van Mijenfjord that has under­go­ne a major cle­a­nup in recent years. The­re are tho­se who knew it and who say that it would have ser­ved Lon­gye­ar­by­en per­fect­ly well.

The old Svea power plant has recent­ly been tur­ned into scrap metal.

At least the gene­ra­tors from Lun­ckef­jel­let, Sveagruva’s most recent mine that never ente­red the stage of pro­duc­ti­ve pro­duc­tion, are now envi­sa­ged to replace the abo­ve-men­tio­ned mili­ta­ry gene­ra­tors and ser­ve as a back­up for Longyearbyen’s main sys­tem.

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last modification: 2024-04-10 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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