Felled by the environment

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The Norwegian government has become the first to collapse over issues related to global warming -- and probably over any environment issue. On March 9, the ruling minority coalition of three small "centre" parties lost a vote of confidence on plans for several natural gas-fired power stations.

The deposed government had argued that the gas plants would emit unacceptable levels of CO2 and should be put on hold until efficient cleansing technology was developed. The opposition, an ad hoc alliance of Conservatives and the mainstream Labour Party, insisted the plants should be built on the grounds that there was no alternative to meeting Norway's demands for power.

A new minority Labour government moved into office on March 17 and is already busy shoring up its environmental credentials. So far it is making encouraging noises about its predecessors' commitment to seeing 3 TWh of wind power a year by 2010, according to Reuters news agency. Bent Hegna, representing Labour in a parliamentary energy committee, is reported as saying: "The fact that we voted for an opening for gas power will have no impact on our view of wind power."

The collapsed government had been struggling to retain respect. A grouping of single issue parties, it was led by Kjell Magne Bondevik, a Lutheran priest who reaped his five minutes of global fame when he became almost certainly the first serving prime minister to admit that he had suffered a nervous breakdown while in office. Nonetheless, during the two and a quarter years of its administration, Bondevik and his ministers did make efforts to translate pieties about the environment into an innovative energy policy with an emphasis on renewables, including a long term budget commitment. This in turn inspired a spate of ambitious wind power projects (Windpower Monthly, March 2000).

The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) administers a NOK 100 million fund earmarked for wind power projects in 2000. Of Norway's 113 TWh electricity production last year, wind power accounted for 0.04 TWh.

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