Luster lies at the head of Sognefjord, framed by the mighty Jotunheimen and Breheimen mountain ranges and the Jostedalsbreen glacier. But, it is not only magnificent scenery that characterises this municipality of 5,100 inhabitants: thanks to hydropower development, Luster has been offering its inhabitants a wide range of cultural opportunities and exceptional public services for almost 50 years.
"It's difficult to envisage Luster without the power plants," says Mayor Ivar Kvalen. "Of our municipal budget of around NOK 450 million, power revenues represent nearly NOK 100 million. This enables us to deliver additional benefits relating to schools, care of the elderly, culture and economic development. Revenues from property taxes, licence fees and sales of concessionary power make us, to put it simply, a unique and attractive municipality in the region."
Location: Luster, Norway
Photographer: Hans Fredrik Asbjørnsen
With a 25-meter swimming pool, diving tower, climbing wall, slides and children's pool, Lustrabadet is popular among the locals in Luster Municipality and visitors from neighbouring municipalities. "Lustrabadet would never have been built without the revenue from hydropower," says Mayor Ivar Kvalen.
Luster has schools, daycare centres and services for the elderly in every nook and cranny of this sprawling municipality. This is not the case in the neighbouring municipalities.
"The most important effect of hydropower is that we can maintain highly decentralised and good quality public services," says the mayor, a member of Norway's Centre Party.
Luster's 658 schoolchildren, from grades 1 to 10, are divided into 10 schools. By comparison, neighbouring municipality Stryn has just five schools for its 968 students.
"Clearly it is expensive to maintain schools with as few as 10 pupils, but Luster is a large and far-flung municipality with large distances between towns," says Kvalen.
"Therefore, we decided that it makes sense."
The mayor also grew up in Luster and has followed developments closely for a long time. Both old and new residents are very familiar with the history of the hydropower municipality.
> Statkraft has operated in Luster Municipality for almost 40 years.
> Leirdøla hydropower plant began production in October 1978 and Jostedal hydropower plant was commissioned in 1990.
> The company's regional operations centre for Central Norway is located in the municipal centre of Gaupne.
The adventure started in the 1950s, when Norsk Hydro began the largest hydropower development of its time, in the Sognefjellet mountain pass, to provide power to the company's aluminium industry in Årdal.
Water was channelled to the power station at Fortun. A few decades later, Statkraft came into the picture. First, with the development of the Tunsbergdalen Valley and Leirdøla power plant in the mid-1970s, and later with the far bigger Jostedal hydropower plant in 1990.
Jostedal hydropower plant uses a catchment area of 144 square kilometres at an altitude of 1,200 metres. The main reservoir, Lake Styggevatn, is furthest north in Jostedalen Valley and just east of Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier on the European mainland.
The total height of fall is 1,186 metres from the reservoir down to the power plant.
"All the residents of Luster see how important hydropower development has been for the municipality," says Mayor Ivar Kvalen.
"In addition to good public services, it has also created important skilled jobs, both during the construction period and on the operational side."
Statkraft's regional office for Central Norway is located in Luster's municipal centre Gaupne. The 50 positions here have been extremely important for attracting new residents to the area, as well as developing local expertise.
Location: Luster, Norway
Photographer: Hans Fredrik Asbjørnsen
Hydrologist Even Loe moved from Oslo with his wife Marit to pursue an exciting job opportunity that opened up for him in Statkraft 10 years ago. Together with their children Rasmus and Jostein, they often go hiking in the mountains, and appreciate the natural surroundings and public services in the municipality.
Hydrologist Even Loe is one of those who moved here. He works for Statkraft and lives in Jostedal with his wife and two sons. Neither Loe nor his wife had any connection to Luster before they decided to move from Oslo around 10 years ago.
"I had just finished my thesis in glaciology, the study of ice, and our second son had been born," says Loe.
"When I saw Statkraft advertise a hydrologist position in Luster, we jumped at the opportunity. The fact that Statkraft offered to rent a house for us, also made it very easy to accept the job. Some buildings in the municipality, including the community centre, are the result of licence requirements for hydropower development. It also helps a great deal that the municipality receives power revenues so it can afford to operate them."
For hydrologist Loe, Luster was the perfect spot to move. Instead of reading about glaciers in Oslo, he could experience them in everyday life.
"If you look at a map of Southern Norway, Jotunheimen and Jostedalsbreen are centre stage, and we are fortunate to live in close proximity to them," he says.
"But the nature is not only beautiful; it also provides a living for us and the municipality."
One of the licence conditions when Jostedal hydropower plant was built was the establishment of a municipal industrial fund worth NOK 22 million. The return from this fund is earmarked for loans to promising local companies that need an economic boost.
"In addition, NOK 5 million of the annual licence fee is used for business development," says Mayor Kvalen. "Our businesses clearly have access to the best business development programme in Norway."
Several companies have been established in the municipality because of the excellent programme. They have in turn created jobs.
The leading producer of transfer labels for clothing, Avery Dennison NTP, is one of the municipality's best examples.
"Avery Dennison NTP got help with start-up funds and office space from the municipality, and set up the factory 25 years ago in a municipal business centre in Gaupne," says Kvalen.
"In the beginning there were four employees; now there are 130. This shows how important these funds are for regional business development and local jobs."
Text: Heidi Bruvik Sæther
Photos: Hans Fredrik Asbjørnsen
The article has also been published in Statkraft's magazine People & Power no. 3/2016.
Close to 200 Norwegian municipalities receive revenues from hydropower production, but only 10–15 members of the Association of Hydropowerproducing Municipalities Landssamanslutninga av Vasskraftkommunar (LVK)) can be said to have particularly high revenues as a result of hydropower development. These municipalities all have small populations combined with large hydropower plants.
The revenue comes from licence fees and taxes that builders and power plant owners have to pay to the municipality.
Sources: LVK, NVE
29. Dec. 2016