After many years of work, the first shovelful of a foundation for a new flue-gas desulfurization system at Longyearbyen's power plant is finally in place. Longyearbyen Mayor Christin Kristoffersen also lowered a "foundation stone" in the form of a case containing two pieces of coal, a bottle of Svalbard cognac and last week's edition of Svalbardposten.
"Svalbard is the place where we notice climate change first and therefore it is very important we provide our own measures here," Kristoffersen said.
At the Wednesday morning ceremony was the Store Norske Mandskor, which customized two of its songs to fit the occasion, namely "Clean as the Smoke Rises" (originally: "Just as the Eagle Rises") and "Our Coal Power Plant" ("Our Beer").
Best dressed, least dressed
Representatives of the German company LAB, commissioned to build the treatment plant, were the best-dressed people at the scene, but at the same time one of them with the least clothes on was caught in the bitter winds behind the power plant.
"I would like to wish you all a warm welcome, said Managing Director Thomas Feilenreiter jokingly.
He traced the lines back to the time when the foundation-laying ceremony was to appease the gods and from that the understanding of how to do it today.
"It is a time to stop and look at what has long been a project on paper that now becomes visible. You've been patient to achieve this," said Feilenreiter, who called the new flue system a "symbol of sustainability in Longyearbyen."
"And finally, if we're lucky, it will work as well," he said with a wry smile.
The flue-gas system will purify emissions from power plant's sulfur and soot, resulting in residual waste of salt, water and nitrogen.
"It is a natural process that releases substances found in nature," Feilenreiter said.
Norway was one of the few countries in Europe where LAB did not have a project. Feilenreiter said he finds it particularly exciting that the company's first project in the country is taking place on Spitsbergen.
"This is a great chance for us to make some new friends," he said.
The road towards the treatment plant has been long and complicated. The Longyearbyen Community Council is required by the Norwegian Environmental Agency, formerly known as the Norwegian Climate and Pollution Agency, to purify emissions from the power plant's soot and sulfur. In 2011, the council allocated 73 million kroner to build a purification plant. But a subsequent cost analysis showed the treatment plant would cost about 115 million.
Last year, the remaining funds were allocated after the local council engaged in hardball tactics against Norway's Ministry of Justice and Public Security. In addition, the city received a grant of four million kroner from the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise.
Jørn Myrlund, the city's technical director, has been with the whole process and said it was fun to see something tangible after the long process.
"Today I have a good feeling. I've been working on this issue since 2007, so it's nice to have it realized," said Myrlund, adding it is also good to satisfy the requirements imposed on the city.
Two new positions
Energy Chief Roar Blomstrand is also happy about the "bodywork."
"I am pleased that with this there will be less emissions," said Blomstrand, who is also pleased about the creation of two additional positions at the power plant to operate the new flue gas system, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015.