Environmental protest and controversies

The beginning of the 1970s is a period of transition marked by youth rebellion, the Vietnam war and political conflicts. During the 1980s, environment awareness grows. Norwegian hydropower development is controversial and generates a great deal of debate.

Around 1980 the state owned about a third of installed electricity production in Norway. New methods to calculate the future value of water in a reservoir heralded a trend toward more market-determined pricing of power. A kilowatt became a commercial commodity in itself.

However, critical voices rose up against the extensive construction of power plants, and new projects became more difficult to implement. When it became known that the spectacular Mardalsfossen in Eikesdal in Møre og Romsdal was going to be diverted into pipes, environmental activists gathered in the summer of 1970 to stop the construction equipment. The watercourse was ultimately developed, but the Mardøla protest campaign's use of civil disobedience to back up demands for preserving pristine nature remains an important symbolic event, overshadowed only by the Alta protests ten years later. At the construction site in Alta, a thousand protesters met hundreds of police officers in a confrontation covered by many members of the press. An important argument against the Alta development involved the rights of the Sami as an indigenous people. Norway's Supreme Court ruled that this issue had been adequately addressed. As a result, the Alta power plants were built, but the intensity of the environmental protest contributed to stricter standards for watercourse developments.

Towards the end of the 1980s, traditional hydropower development began to wind down in Norway. One of the last major developments was Ulla-Førre in Rogaland, completed in 1988 at a cost of NOK 7.8 billion. Even today, the plant is the largest of its kind in Northern Europe with its 20 dams, 125 kilometres of tunnels and an annual production of 4.5 TWh.

In 1990 a crossroads was reached. Without the prospect of any new large hydropower projects in Norway, it became more important to streamline operations and the power grid to produce electricity when it provided the greatest value. The power markets were deregulated and liberalised. A new energy law in 1990 paved the way for a free energy market and competition in the sale of power, while power transmission remained a monopoly. Statkraft faced a new future as a commercial and international energy company.