Norway looks to safeguard reservoir levels, could curb power exports
By Nora Buli
OSLO (Reuters) - Norway on Friday announced plans to ensure sufficient domestic hydropower supply that could lead to restrictions on power exports if water reservoirs at hydropower stations fall to very low levels.
"We want to ensure there is always enough water in our reservoirs. There should always be enough power in our sockets (at home) and we should have enough power for our industry," Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told a news conference.
Among the measures announced is a bill making hydropower producers formally responsible for maintaining water reservoirs above a certain level.
They must also report reservoir levels to authorities.
Friday's announcement formalised procedures put in place last year, officials said.
Last year Norway said it could limit power exports if hydropower reservoirs fell under a certain level, drawing the ire of its Nordic neighbours who saw the move as power protectionism.
Norway is not a member of the EU but is part of the European common market via the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which also includes Iceland and Liechtenstein.
On Friday the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA), which monitors the group's compliance with common market rules, expressed "concern" at Oslo's plan and said it would start a dialogue with the government.
"Any measures that may lead to restrictions on the power market in the European Economic Area are of concern," an ESA spokesperson told Norwegian news agency NTB.
Hydropower accounts for around 90% of Norway's electricity output, much of it depending on power plants fed by water from large reservoirs.
The minority centre-left government is under pressure to lower power bills for households, with the cost of living the main issue of concerns for voters.
Criticised by its neighbours, Norway has repeatedly defended linking exports and reservoir levels, likening it to European efforts to prioritise filling gas storage to ensure sufficient winter supply.
"This is not a measure directed against any country, it’s a measure directed against securing, in the future, a stable system of provision of energy from the Norwegian hydro system," Stoere told Reuters.
His colleagues in neighbouring countries "fully understand" that it is in Norway's as well as other countries' interest to maintain stable hydropower levels, Stoere added, while playing down the risks of export restrictions.
"I don’t think this is a very likely scenario," he said.
(Reporting by Nora Buli, editing by Gwladys Fouche and Jason Neely)