Norway's decision to go ahead with an ambitious electrification project that will slash emissions at the Hammerfest liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant promises to boost wind power in the northern Finnmark region, said the nation's government.

However, the plan has already come up against opposition from those who seen an expansion in renewables infrastructure in the region as a threat to the indigenous Sami people’s way of life and environmentally destructive –the same issue that led global climate icon Greta Thunberg to join anti-wind power protests in Oslo earlier this year.

The Hammerfest LNG plant, operated by Norwegian oil and gas major Equinor, is currently Norway’s single biggest emitter of CO2 but a plan to connect the facility to the national power grid was approved in an event held at the site on Tuesday.

The plan includes shutting down a gas-fired power plant and replacing it with power supply from a Norwegian grid where hydroelectric generation currently dominates, but where offshore wind is seen as a major source of supply as demand for electricity rises.

“This triggers the largest single climate measure decided by a Norwegian government and provides a major boost for industry and jobs in the north of our country," said Norway's Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere in an event held at the LNG plant in Arctic Norway’s Melkoya island.

Wind solution

Also at the event, Norwegian energy minister Terje Aasland said it was realistic to boost power production by at least as much as the planned 350MW increase in consumption at Hammerfest LNG by 2030, provided the requisite wind licenses are granted.

The ministry's statement on the Hammerfest initiative stated that that 3GW of onshore wind power capacity has already been granted or is in the applications process in the Finnmark region.

The statement added that “the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) has identified several areas in the Barents Sea as relevant for offshore wind in the future, which the government is now considering for a further tender process”.

Recharge reported in April that the Norwegian government plans to assess 20 more areas for potential offshore wind projects, mostly suitable for floating turbines.

The areas mapped by the NVE ranged included parts of the the northern Barents Sea described as “technically suitable for offshore wind and where conflicts of interest are relatively low”.

Emissions impact

The electrification of Western Europe’s largest LNG liquefaction facility could prevent around 850,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, or about 90% of the plant’s current emission and 2% of Norway's total annual emissions, according to a Norwegian government statement released on Tuesday.

But the re-development plan approved this week will also extend the life cycle of the Hammerfest LNG facility to 2040, allowing processing of an additional 60 billion cubic metres of natural gas, the statement added.

Government approval was also given to Equinor’s amended Snohvit Future development plan covering electrification of the gas processing and compression system, with investments of at least NKr13bn ($1.3bn) envisaged.

Aasland said the electrification of the Hammerfest LNG will breathe life into existing offshore oil and gas developments.

“We continue to develop the (Norwegian continental shelf) and facilitate for more value creation and an expanded extraction of gas from the Barents Sea. It is important for this region, but also for Norway and Europe,” he said.

Price fears

The plan has proven contentious locally, due to perceived environmental and social impacts.

Plans for the electrification of oil and gas facilities have drawn criticism from some politicians, as the climate initiative comes at a time when the conflict in Ukraine has pushed up demand for Norwegian energy, with a knock-on effect on domestic electricity prices.

Locally, politicians argue that the electrification of the Melkoya facility will drain the region’s power supply and lead to a hike in electricity prices. This is why the government says the electrification project is moving hand in hand with plans to develop wind parks and install new transmission lines in the region.

In a parallel move this week, the Norwegian government also granted a licence for new transmission lines in the region so that grid development can begin.

Disgruntled locals

Representatives of the indigenous Sami people demanded more consultation and came out against the building of new transmission lines and wind parks.

“It is completely unacceptable that the government announces the electrification of Melkoya in this way. It show that the government ignores its own promises to take Sami rights into account. The promised strengthened dialogue with the Sami Parliament appears to be only empty words,” Silje Karine Muotka, president of the Sami Parliament said in a statement.

Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth Norway issued a statement opposing the expansion of energy infrastructure industry.

“We do not need more energy,” leader of the organisation Truls Gulowsen argued.

“We cannot solve the climate crisis by razing large amounts of the nature on which we are completely dependent. The solution is quite simple: We have to use less energy, we have to use electricity smarter and consumption has to go down.”

Prime Minister Store rebuffed such criticism, a new industrial projects will always be subject to criticism.

“It would be irresponsible of us not to launch these plans,” he told journalists in Hammerfest, according to the Barents Observer news website.