The start of an energy success story

Hydropower's pioneer age in the late 1800s is characterised by investment capital and speculation, bold engineering and important political decisions. Waterfalls are purchased, power plants are rapidly developed and laws are enacted to secure national sovereignty over the new wealth.

Whoever owns the land along a Norwegian river also owns the same section of the river. This private ownership right, unique to Scandinavia, means that rivers and waterfalls in principle can be sold like any other real estate.

During the two decades after 1890 alone, the rights to a number of Norwegian waterfalls were bought up by private individuals from Norway and abroad. The most famous of these was Sam Eyde, who in 1905 founded Norsk Hydro and needed large amounts of electric power to extract nitrogen from the air to produce fertilizer on a large scale. Other buyers were speculators who did not want to build power plants, just resell the rights for a hefty profit. Well known members of parliament advocated for the state to intervene to prevent speculation and foreign takeover and secure the nation's interests through legal regulations. They felt the state should also preserve famous waterfalls for the benefit of tourism. The so-called panic laws of 1906 decreed that the rights to own or use a waterfall could not be acquired by anyone other than the state or municipalities without a license from the King in Council, and later laws ensured that power plants owned by others would revert to the state after a certain periode.

The state became the owner of rights to a waterfall for the first time on 30 May 1895 when Paulenfoss on the Otra river system in Vennesla in Vest-Agder County was purchased from the landowner for NOK 23 245. The purpose was to provide power to operate the railway in Setesdal. The acquisition of Paulenfoss is regarded as the birth of today's Statkraft.

From 1907 to 1920, the Norwegian state bought waterfall rights for large sums of money and became Northern Europe's largest hydropower plant owner. There was no consistent plan behind all the purchases. They were motivated by a strong mistrust of large foreign investors and a fear that industry would gain a monopoly over the power supply. In 1918 the state also bought the half-finished Glomfjord power plant in Nordland County to produce electricity for industry in Mo i Rana. This was the first major power plant development managed by the state. The following year a much larger development took place in the mountain village of Nore in Buskerud County. The Nore plant still stands today as a monument to government power plant development.

The electrification of Norway accelerated in the years that followed. Fjord after fjord, valley after valley and town after town got access to electricity for buildings, street lights, railways and businesses. During World War II from 1940-1945, a number of new hydropower projects were implemented to provide energy for, among other purposes, the production of Norwegian aluminium used in the German aerospace industry. At the same time, new transformers and more efficient transmission lines were established across the country. Norwegian and Allied sabotage and bombing of hydropower plants and factories, among them Vemork in Telemark and Glomfjord in Nordland, threw a monkey wrench in the occupying power's weapons production. Despite this, the vast majority of power plants established in those days are still in operation.