"We know that it is technically possible to store CO2 from coal power production. Now we have to find a way to drive this project forward. It is a topic already included in the budget negotiations this fall," said Ola Elvestuen, First Deputy Chairman of Norway's liberal left party, Venstre, and chairman of the Standing Committee on Environment and Energy.
The politician was on a busy tour this week in Svalbard, visiting the CO2 lab at The University Centre in Svalbard and Store Norske's operations at Svea. Liberals are not advocating the elimination coal mining in Svalbard, as the more extreme Green Party is seeking.
"To achieve the two-degree (warming) target the world must consume less coal," Elvestuen said. "In Europe we see this tendency even today, since there is closure of more coal-fired plants than opening of new ones. If we can find a way to use coal that does not result in today's emissions, such an operation is not problematic for us. That is why the CO2 storage project is so interesting," said Elvestuen.
Elvestuen said he believes it is in the coal industry's interest to participate in this development, and sees Store Norske as an important instrument for the state. He repeats the vision many others have done before him.
"We must show the world that it is possible to make Svalbard a showcase," he said.
CO2 storage visions and the future of power production in Longyearbyen are closely linked in the minds of Ola Elvestuen and many other politicians. The problem is finding something concrete that meets the needs of the community in Longyearbyen while at the same time providing a future-proof solution that Norway can stand by. Another problem is to quantify in monetary terms what the various options will cost taxpayers.
"Venstre believes it is important to use the new technology to achieve the emissions targets set," Elvestuen said. "But as it is now, there is an unclear distribution of responsibilities that will allow everything simply to flow. I am aiming to get much of this clarified during my term so that we can aim for something specific within a few years. This must also be seen in connection with the use of other energy sources."
Another important reason why Elvestuen took a trip to Svalbard this week was to become acquainted with one of the party's newest and smallest local chapters, Svalbard Venstre. The five local members are more important than the membership numbers might suggest.
"A local chapter in Longyearbyen is important for Venstre nationally," Elvestuen said. "It gives us a greater expertise on issues concerning Svalbard. In addition, it opens a channel from the local community into the politicians who sit in positions of power."
Oddmund Rønning, Svalbard Venstre's acting head and the HSE manager for Store Norske, said he hopes the party will be represented in the Longyearbyen Community Council after the next election.
"We are in the process of preparing our local party program," he said. "In that lies the review on how close to the mother party we should be. But we will go in for economically and environmentally sustainable coal mining in Svalbard in the future."