Controversial proposal from Vattenfall

26 April, 2023

Now Vattenfall wants to make its hydropower plants more efficient in order to produce more electricity.

There is even more unbridled energy in our waterways to be harnessed. But the whole thing is controversial.

Vattenfall has announced that four power stations in the north, where hydroelectric plants already exist, will now be rebuilt so that production increases significantly. 720 megawatts are added, which corresponds to approximately nine percent of Vattenfall’s total hydropower production. By comparison, a normal-sized nuclear reactor produces about 1,000 megawatts.

But the expansion may make one or two think. What hidden energy resources are in our waterways?

-Roger Östberg, senior advisor specializing in hydropower at the Swedish Energy Agency, says that there is a potential to increase the effect in hydropower by around 20 percent through efficiency measures, such as those that Vattenfall is now planning.

-It is not a doubling, but an opportunity to make better use of the power in the water, says Roger Östberg.

Sweden’s 2,100 hydropower plants with different capacities. As well as the last four undeveloped rivers. Graphics: Anna-Lena Lindqvist/TT

Most suitable to streamline

It is the route that has been identified as the most suitable by the authorities to get more out of the hydropower.

-From a socio-economic point of view, it is most cost-effective to do this in the waterways that have already been affected, says Johan Kling, head of water resources management at the Norwegian Sea and Water Authority.

-In addition to Vattenfall’s planned reconstruction, similar projects are also underway elsewhere, such as in Skellefteån, he says.

But there are also watercourses that are untouched. Today there are four so-called national rivers that were saved when hydropower was expanded 50-60 years ago. Torne River, Kalix River, Pite River and Vindel River were protected by legislation. According to Roger Östberg at the Energy Agency, an expansion of the national rivers would add approximately 14 terawatt hours to the total of 65 terawatt hours that hydropower provides per year. An increase of nearly 20 percent.

When it comes to nuclear power, a lot of sacred cows have been slaughtered, and the question is whether the protected rivers will meet the same fate. Statliga Vattenfall means that there are no other plans than just the efficiency improvements of the existing power plants.

Since the rivers were protected, this has had broad support. Neither Roger Östberg at the Energy Agency nor Richard Löwall, chairman of the Älvräddarna association, believes that the protected elves are in danger.

-We need our national rivers. We have such a fragile river system, and the Baltic Sea needs the rivers. I think you are aware of that, he says.

Slaughter sacred cows

Although Dag Avango, professor of history at Luleå University of Technology, and focused on the history of hydropower, is not so sure that we will do without the national rivers in the future.

-The risk is there. There are already voices for it, which talk about slaughtering sacred cows, he says.

He tells about the battles when the rivers were expanded. The opposition to Vindelälven conservation was particularly strong.

The landowners refused to cooperate, and resistance grew. In the end, Evert Taube entered the fray and wrote the poem about Änglamarken. Then it was decided to stop the expansion.

Evert Taube wrote the poem about Änglamarken. Image from the summer of 1967. Photo: Ragnhild Haarstad/SvD/TT

Conflicts about wind

Today, the conflicts with the local population and landowners do not primarily concern hydropower, but wind power. Dag Avango thinks that you can see similarities with the 60’s battles over river development.

Land use conflicts always arise. What is happening now is that wind power will grow when the energy demand is huge. It will increase the conflicts and tensions, especially in the North.

Now it’s about new goal conflicts as a lot of electricity is needed for climate change.

-We get the environmental impact of new types of energy, while the intention is to deal with another environmental problem. Prioritization is needed, says Dag Avango.

Johanna Cederblad/TT

State owned Vattenfall wants to make four existing power plants more efficient and increase capacity. It is about Juktan in Umeälven, Porjus power station in Lule river, Harsprånget power station in Lule river and Messaure power station in Lule river.

A preliminary study is now being done. However, the permit processes can take a long time. One of the projects could be operational by 2026 and the others by 2031 at the earliest.

The supplement will be approximately 720 MW, which corresponds to approximately 9 percent of Vattenfall’s hydropower production.

Vattenkraft accounts for 40 percent of Vattenfall’s total energy production. Hydropower is adjustable, unlike, for example, wind power. Through the water reservoir, production can be increased or decreased based on needs.

Source: Vattenfall

In the 1960s there were plans to expand the Vindelälven, but the plans were canceled in 1970.

Evert Taube wrote the song “Änglamark”, which refers to the Vindelälven:

“Let the last river, which roars in our nature

Still roaring between mountains and spruce and fir

Call it angel ground or heaven ground if you like

The land we inherited and the grove, the green”

Source: County Administrative Board in Västerbotten

Text: Johanna Cederblad/TT
Graphics: Anna-Lena Lindqvist
Photo: Carl-Johan Utsi/TT
Photo: Ragnhild Haarstad/SvD/TT

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