In 1885 electricity for lamps was introduced in Norway. In the beginning small power plants sprung up in towns, villages and hamlets, exclusively for lighting purposes. Soon there were also larger power plants for a rapidly growing industry. We saw the advent of power intensive industries such as the chemical and smelting industries.
Many of the companies involved in this industry were owned by non-Norwegians. The authorities were concerned that the water resources could fall into foreign hands and wanted to retain control.
The license laws were passed, prohibiting the purchase of waterfalls and storage of water in reservoirs for power plants without permission of the King. These laws were passed and amended between 1906 and 1917.
After the Second World War (1945) the rebuilding of the country began. As a result we saw that electricity was more intensively used in the households. Industry was growing very fast, modernising and becoming dependent on electricity.
The demand for electricity was growing rapidly. Advances were made in technology, dam construction, tunnel excavation and mechanical and electric constructions. The expansion of the power lines gave more stable electricity to larger parts of the country. This led to an increased demand for hydro power development.
In the 1960s there was a growing conflict between the hydro power developers and environmental interests. Earlier the applications had only been supported by technical plans. But during the 1960s environmental concerns began to influence society, at first as a result of activities by environmental organisations and university scientists. This led to a continuous demand for environmental impact assessments (EIAs) during the licensing process. We saw a clash of interests between the different parties, which also led to great problems for the licensing process.
In 1969 a new phase in the licensing process was introduced. The applicant was obliged to send a notification to NVE at the start of the planning process. This notification was to invite interested parties to comment on the plan. The aim of this was to try to reduce conflicts by developing co-operation and thus find alternatives to reduce or eliminate conflicts. This first notification should also establish a framework for the EIAs.
During 1970s and 1980s the licensing procedures were developed and expanded by guidelines devised by NVE, which covered content of the application including EIAs and guidelines for public information. However, these changes did not prevent some bitter conflicts in the 1970s.
In 1972 the Ministry of Environment was established. Until 1980 almost all environmental concern had focused on hydro power development, while pollution, road construction etc had received less attention.
During the conflicts in the 1960s the idea of a protection plan started. A committee was established to prepare a proposal for a protection plan for river systems. Their proposal was accepted by Parliament in 1973. This plan was succeeded by three other protection plans. The most recent and probably the final one was accepted by our Parliament in 1993.
341 river systems are now protected against further hydropower development. However, some of these rivers had developed hydropower by the time the protection plan was accepted. Such power plants and reservoirs could of course continue to run and be maintained.
This also started around 1980 as a result of the conflicts between environmental interests, hydropower developers and the authorities. The aim here was to put all remaining hydro power projects into two categories, those projects already approved for licensing (application), and those to be dealt with at a later date.
The first category involves projects with minor conflicts. The Master Plan was accepted by Parliament in 1986 and been updated a couple of times since. In Norway we developed a large part of our hydropower potential before establishing the Master Plan.
Until 1990 the licensing procedures established were in accordance with the Watercourse Regulation Act (reservoirs), Acquisition Act (Waterfalls, shares) and the general Watercourses Act. However, we had already co-ordinated these procedures with the Pollution Control Act and with the Energy Act as regarding electric installations and power transmission lines
In 1990 the licensing procedures were co-ordinated with the Planning and Building Act, with respect to provisions about notification and Impact Assessments (IAs). This means that the Norwegian licensing procedures for hydropower development also adhere to European Union Directives. (Most recent regulations of May 1999).