Norway’s plan to curb electricity exports as Europe grapples with a severe energy crisis is a dangerous and selfish act that risks empowering Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, according to the Nordic country’s neighbours.
The power grid operators of Denmark, Finland and Sweden have taken the unusual step of warning Norway that its proposal to stop exporting electricity amid concerns in Oslo over its hydro production undermined the European market.
“It would be the first country in Europe to do it in electricity. It would be a very dangerous step and nationalistic. It’s very selfish behaviour,” Jukka Ruusunen, chief executive of Finland’s network operator Fingrid, told the Financial Times.
“If we don’t work together it will help Russia. The best way to help Russia is to leave the team,” he added.
The criticism underlines how Europe’s energy crisis has raised tensions among traditional allies, as power prices surge following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.
As western Europe’s largest petroleum producer, Norway will make record sums from the sale of oil, gas and electricity this year.
But amid growing worries about how Europe will cope this winter both with high prices and the availability of energy, Norway’s proposal to curb electricity exports to boost its own security of supply has sparked anger.
“There is a danger in any national measure in any situation like this — they are contagious. People might say if Norway can do it, so can we. Therefore I think it’s the wrong approach,” said Johannes Bruun, director for the electricity market at Energinet, Denmark’s grid operator. Denmark was not planning any retaliatory measures, he added.
Andreas Bjelland Eriksen, state secretary in Norway’s petroleum and energy ministry, confirmed that the centre-left government in Oslo was looking at a mechanism that would curb production, and therefore exports, when the reservoirs that power its hydroelectric facilities “fall to very low levels”.
Any mechanism would be in line with the “obligations” it has to Europe and would help the “stability of the entire integrated power system”, he added.
However its neighbours disagree. Ruusunen noted that Norway was earning “so much money” in the wake of the Russian invasion. A cut in electricity exports would also help “populist, nationalist voices to split the market. In the end, everybody would lose,” he said.
Norway is keen to present itself as a reliable supplier of petroleum after displacing Russia as the biggest source of gas to Europe. “If they do this, it will hurt the whole brand of Norway. The reliability and trust are one of the basic ingredients,” Ruusunen said.
Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, Norway’s finance minister, sought to calm fears in Helsinki and Stockholm by pointing out that they received electricity from the north of Norway, where reservoir levels are high and prices low — unlike in the south of the country, which supplies Denmark, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands.
But Ruusunen gave that argument short shrift, saying there was only a “very weak” and “very small” electricity supply line in the north.
Norway’s government is under pressure to do more to alleviate rising power prices at home, particularly for struggling businesses in the south of the country.
The country already provides the most generous power subsidies in Europe, paying 90 per cent of consumers’ bills over a certain level.