“Local Government Leaders of Governance” on a Study Visit to Norway
Representatives of local governments – winners of the “Local Government Leaders of Governance” Competition with a focus on urban energy transformation took part in a study visit to Norway to learn more about green energy-related Norwegian solutions.

Meetings were held in Skien, Porsgrunn and Oslo.

Notably, Lądek-Zdrój, Ostrów Wielkopolski, Konin and Lublin are winners of this year’s Competition with a focus on “Urban Energy Transformation for Climate Neutrality and Life Quality Improvement”. Honourable mentions were awarded to Tychy, Gdańsk and Gdynia.

Skien: greenhouse gas emissions

With a population of 56,000, Skien is the eighteenth largest city in Norway. Eight hundred years old, it is also one of the oldest, and the capital of the Telemark region comprising six municipalities.

Skien is famous for its beautiful 125-year-old church, the Telemark Canal and the largest aquapark in Norway, and as the birthplace of playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906). An Ibsen museum operates in town – a state-of-the-art futuristic multimedia Ibsen library will open as part of the Ibsen 2028 event to commemorate the playwright’s 200th birthday.

The social sector is well-developed in town, providing assorted services to local residents. The Skien hospital employs 4,000 staff, the municipality the second-largest employer.

Urban development used to be based on paper industry – the city had a cellulose factory. After it had been shut down, other industries began developing, including small- and medium-sized IT enterprises.

The municipality’s ecological schedule includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030, all of Norway to become a low-emission country by 2050. With ambitious plans in mind, Grenland (Skien’s home district) has been implementing the “Bypakke Grenland” infrastructural project since 2015, with intent to reduce the district’s carbon footprint. Municipal officials argue that the goal can be reached through proper infrastructure construction and maintenance, preferential treatment of dense spatial development forms, use of new technologies, supporting the development of environmentally friendly transport, and stimulating and engaging in activities to reduce the use of personal vehicles (parking fees and other charges). The project’s budget (with a different operational programme implemented each year) is funded by fees sourced from the central government (based on guidelines and bespoke indicators) and participating local governments, and charges payable by car owners (50%!). The activity schedule included efforts to convince local residents to use electric bicycles (such as free-of-charge electric bicycle rentals).

In terms of transport, low rates of public transport users (15%) have certainly been an issue. Other commuters include cyclists (4-5%) and private car users. While the state does subsidise public transportation, certain requirements have to be met – statistics cannot point to growth in private car numbers, for example. Incentives – such as inexpensive monthly passes for NOK 400.00 (ca. PLN 200.00) and the option to test electric bicycles for free – notwithstanding, the pace of improvement continues to be slow. Furthermore, local governments are supported by the governmental electric vehicle development programme (in Norway, electric cars are cheaper than diesel engine cars owing to governmental taxation policies) with its medley of grants and incentives for e-vehicles, such as toll-free highways and parking lots. Norwegian local governments intend to restrict the number of private cars to one per family.

The Skien municipality has also been delivering a project designed to improve energy efficiency. For a number of years, it has been allowing building owners to engage in renovation projects designed to absorb most recent requirements. Pre-set energy savings are contractually guaranteed in agreements entered into with project contractors, their remuneration financed in part from savings-based profits. Once the agreement terminates (18 months later), all savings are allocated to building owners.

The first project phase recorded annual savings of 7,200,000 KWh. Having spiked tremendous interest, the project continues, an amount of NOK 25 million invested in 2023.

Study visit participants visited a home for the elderly, the building developed with extraordinary care for the environment. Issued numerous certificates, it has been fitted with photovoltaic roof panels generating in-house energy.

Porsgrunn: green fertiliser and a Magic Factory

The neighbouring Porsgrunn was another municipality who extended an invitation to Polish local government representatives. Porsgrunn is home to the Herøya Industrial Park where 80 companies operate – industrial and service entities employing hundreds as well as tiny start-ups with just a few staff. Nearly 2,500 persons have found employment at the Industrial Park.

Yara, a world-renowned fertiliser manufacturer, is one of the many companies operating out of Herøya. They are currently running a green fertiliser manufacturing project. Their mineral fertilisers are nitrate-based; while their chemical and physical composition is identical to fossil fuel-based, their carbon footprint considerably lower owing to having been manufactured with the use of renewable electricity (water, wind, solar).

Early deliveries of green Yara fertiliser will be part of a pilot project in Porsgrunn, Norway, based on an industrial-scale electrolyser, and system integration with an already operational ammonia factory. The project will generate around 20,000 tonnes of ammonia per annum – 60,000 to 80,000 tonnes of fossil fuel-free green mineral fertiliser. In five to seven years, Yara intends to switch all of Porsgrunn’s factory to green ammonia, allowing large-scale manufacturing.

The largest and first-ever pilot factory of Yara’s green hydrogen is currently under construction in a renovated building located in the Herøya Industrial Park. The project is delivered as part of SKREI, an endeavour shared with the German company Linde Engineering.

Porsgrunn is also home to the world’s first electric, autonomous, zero-emission container ship: Yara Birkeland. Battery-powered, it carries fertilisers across the fjord, from Yara to the Brevik harbour. Yara will reduce diesel-powered truck haulage by 40,000 journeys a year.

Participants also visited the Vesar waste treatment plant which services 6 municipalities with a total population of around 250,000, the plant’s core operations involving the manufacturing of food and animal (manure) waste-based biogas. Gas is reprocessed to biogas powering 80% of buses in the region. Moreover, the plant runs a scientific and experimental programme known as the Magic Factory. Owing to a bespoke broad educational offer, children and young people are introduced in a hands-on and practical way to circular economy and the use of by-products of biogas manufacturing, i.a. at Vesar’s tomato plantation.

The schedule for the last day of the visit included a presentation of KS (Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities) activities, and green energy projects they delivered.

Katarzyna Paczyńska