Norway Overhead Power Lines

When in Norway recently I focused on what any typical traveler would find interesting… their overhead power lines.

We took a ferry in the fjord in the area of Norway west of Bergen, the 2nd largest city in the country. Off in the distance I could see the pylons, and since the fjords are so steep and tall they looked very tiny in perspective.

Since Norway is blessed with immense amounts of hydropower, they have little need for conventional fueled plants. Hydro power is the most significant of the “alternative” generation assets (as opposed to the more “hip” wind or solar power sources), and once built the costs to “run” the site are very low (although the glacial debris does damage the generators; they had an exhibit in their “glacier museum” that showed the impact).

Here are the lines over the amazingly scenic city of Balastrand. We hiked up to the top of a local hill and I took the opportunity to snap a photo of the lines.

Even though these power lines seemed to be all over the fjords, locals in other parts of Norway were opposed to continuing these types of overhead transmission lines. The city of Bergen and the country’s largest gas processing plant (natural gas is the primary reason for the country’s current wealth and Bergen is a major city) require additional power for their growth. Per this article in the NY Times titled “Opposition to Power Line At Fjord Runs Deep“:

While the overhead power lines would cost $152 million, by the government’s estimate, Mr. Borgen of Statnett says a combination of an underwater cable and high tension lines would cost four times as much. Nevertheless, most people in Norheimsund and surrounding areas like the underwater solution. Atle Kvamme, of the local Chamber of Commerce, said the most important thing was for the Bergen region to have enough power. Yet, he added: “We are a rich nation. We can afford to build in the sea.”

What I find interesting is that nowhere in the article does the NY Times talk about how ridiculous it is to waste over $450 million (the additional cost for overhead lines) when 1) there are already many lines over fjords and they haven’t stopped tourism or damaged the quality of life 2) there are many other better uses in the world for this kind of money. The article does mention that the underwater lines, in addition to costing 4x as much, are more prone to failure (don’t forget that those fjords are DEEP).

What kind of hubris does it take to demand that $450m in additional funds to be wasted for a less reliable solution? Well the NIMBY type of hubris, the type that stops progress in the name of conservation and ignores that money wasted on this type of “investment” could be better spent (or not spent at all) on virtually anything else.

This episode at least has a happy ending. Despite the opposition from a few greens, the power lines went ahead. Sadly enough, it is easier to get things done in Norway than it is in the USA.

Cross posted at LITGM

6 thoughts on “Norway Overhead Power Lines”

  1. Being in the electric power business, I get remarks about undergrounding of electric power lines often.

    When I point out the cost differences and how that would affect one’s power bill, they usually shut up.

    Roughly 25% of the cost of retail electricity is from transmission. Increase that 4X and the overall price goes up 75%.

    Many places, like here in California, require that new lines NOT be situated on ridge lines where they are more visible.

    That too drives up the cost but could be a reasonable compromise at times.

  2. In the late 19th century, technological infrastructure was considered beautiful by many to the point that rich people built their mansions to overlook damns, railroad bridges and the like. No one called power lines ugly until the 1960s. Until then they were regarded of emblems of progress and social uplift e.g. rural electrification.

    What has actually happened is that unsullied nature has become an elitist status product in the minds of many. In world were all necessities are easily taken care of and any elite man made product will in five years be in the hands of the middle-class, unsullied nature becomes about the only things that people can brag about having. In modern world, the poor and middle class live close with the technology of production while the upper classes live with the birds and deer like disney characters.

    When someone sneers at a power line, they aren’t sneering at industrialism or environmental destruction, they are sneering at the presumption that they aren’t wealthy and powerful enough to have the lines pushed away so they can show off their status with a purely natural view. It’s a affront to their status desire.

    Environmentalism today is little more than elitist status consumption. As such we shouldn’t be surprised that a minority of Norwegians would be willing to spend $450 million dollars of public money just for the view. Spending the money wastefully is exactly the point. Only the wealthy can afford to do so. It is potlatch.

  3. My retort to disdain for power lines is “That’s my bread-and-butter, and probably yours too.”

    Ever notice how wealthy musicians often disparage electrical generation and infrastructure yet NEVER pause to think how many wealthy musicians there were PRIOR to electricity?

    Without electricity, their marketing and revenue reach was limited to concert halls. While crank-up Victrolas expanded that reach, it took radio, electrical gramophones, and electric amplification to generate real wealth.

  4. Shannon – interesting comment. I just received notice that some power lines may be strung on my farm property and I just gave it a shoulder shrug and thought “it is better for all, and I don’t mind looking at them to remind me of progress”. My wife feels differently.

  5. “Environmentalism today is little more than elitist status consumption.”

    Amen, brother. In law school there was a discussion about preserving some area for nature. The teacher was all in favor, the students mostly were, too. I said, I don’t see why some huge chunk of the continent should be kept as a nature walk for rich people, when ordinarily people wanted the jobs and houses that would be built on the places you are supposedly trying to protect. I’ll never forget it. The professor literally sputtered and said, well, its not as if the people who support these kinds of measures are … Republicans! This was meant as a laugh line. He meant, since it was not Republicans who supported these restrictions on buildings, these restrictions must somehow or other also be good for “the poor” or “working people” or whatever. Pathetic. This professor was considered at the time to be an up and coming star. He was a dope.

  6. Another side problem with the park movement today is that park visitors are declining because the prevailing attitude is to put as little infrastructure as possible in the park and keep it in its most “natural state”. I was told that once there was a car dealership in Yellowstone; now there probably are many on the left wishing there were no roads at all (just a slight path for backpackers, maybe).

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