My best Arctic trips, Part 3

I was on a long trip north that had started in Finland….and I continued to drive, down the coast of Norway.

On the way south.

I knew that Arctic had more than enough wind for anyone. So I decided to take a detour to the 16 wind turbines in Havøygavlen’s Arctic Wind Park: they were producing clean energy from this plentiful natural resource, much like Nunavut or Nunavik could.

Located at 71 degrees latitude, the Arctic Wind Park, which opened in 2003, was the most northerly collection of wind turbines in the world.

And there I was.

The view to the sea from the wind farm in Havøysund on a sunny warm day.

When I drove to Havøysund, the giant towers appeared suddenly on a hillside, looking more like lost extraterrestrial invaders than like producers of clean energy.

The enormous towers made little noise, although when the sun fell slightly on the horizon, they cast long, eerie shadows, stretching all the way down to Havøysund below.

The 80-metre-high towers, together with the reinforced plastic blades, each weighed 250 tonnes.

And, when they were working efficiently, they produced about 120 gigawatt hours of electricity, five times more than Havøysund, population about 1,000, would use in a year/

The rest of this power was exported to distant consumers via the power grid.

Arctic Wind, a subsidiary of several power corporations in Norway, owned the $44 million wind park—and planned to recover its entire investment by 2014.

Looking out after the turbines was a staff of three, who spent most of their days scanning what was going on inside the towers from computer screens in an office. Regular maintenance was done on the turbines twice a year.

But Inge Lynghamar of Arctic Wind told me he sometimes had to scale a ladder in the middle of the turbines’ tower to fix a problem or to check on how they were running.

Lynghamar was a fan of his wind park: “This is pure energy,” he said.

And one that operated with few problems. The turbines were made to run for about 20 years without major repairs.

The main concern of the wind park’s guardians was the level of wind: when there was none, production dropped.

However, winds of more than 70 kilometres an hour could cause the turbines to stop, and it could take some time to get them back on line.

“The best speed is 41 to 50 km an hour,” Lynghamar said. “If you have a good and stable wind it really works.”

Temperatures along this Arctic coast line only dropped to -15 C in winder he said, but Lynghamar said the turbines could be fitted with a heating system to withstand the colder temperatures found in Canada’s Arctic.

The shadows from the windmills, with Havøysund below.

The Arctic Wind Park’s impact on the environment had been minimal, Lynghamar said. Birds didn’t even run into the park’s towers, although in other parts of Norway there had been some bird collisions.

Lynghamar said fishermen appreciated the towers because they could use them to see the direction of the wind was and how strong it was blowing.

“If it doesn’t look good, they go back to bed.”

And the Arctic Wind Park had also become a bit of a tourist attraction. When the park was built, a restaurant-café was built at the far end of the park to overlook the sea. That’s where I ate on the first evening I arrived in Havøysund.

But shadows from the towers did fall across Havøysund at some times of the day and during certain times of the year. Shadows from the turning blades of the turbines caused some people in some other communities to complain, but Lynghamar told me when that happened, the turbine blade responsible for the flickering shadow would be set to stop for a while.

In any event, shadows weren’t much of a problem in a region where there was constant sun in the summer and darkness for three months of winter.

The marina in Havøysund.

The sun was shining when I was in Havøysund. I was the only person staying in a small bed-and-breakfast. I decided to stay two nights. But when I woke up on the third day, it was pouring rain. I had no rubber boots with me. I decided to leave and head down the coast, hopefully to some sun.

Did you miss Part 1 and Part 2? Catch up….to be continued….

My best Arctic trips, Part 2

So, there I was, driving and driving, more than 1,000 kilometres, watching out for reindeer as I took the long road north. I was in a strange state of mind during that summer of 2006.

I was grieving and was happiest alone when I could feel happy or sad or nothing at all. So my road trip to the Arctic Ocean off the top of Norway was a perfect voyage of recovery.

I arrived in Kirkenes to stay at this hotel which my friend had reserved for me. The room was small and dark and I was happy to have a window to open.

In Canada’s eastern Arctic, I couldn’t have driven to a place like Kirkenes, Norway, and even today that wouldn’t be possible due to the lack of roads. But Kirkenes, with a population of about 3,600, was then—and is now—a town built and maintained by transportation.

See the Russian sign on my hotel? One in 10 people in Kirkenes were Russian, I learned. That, too, was due to from transportation.

And the Russians also came to spend millions of dollars on shopping sprees in Kirkenes, while Norwegians travelled to Russia, where they shopped for cheaper gas, booze and food, and received better medical care than at home.

Up to 800 Russian fishing vessels also visited the port in the centre of town every year. Sailors poured out into the streets, which mostly had Russian names.

Coastal ferry boats also brought passengers up from southern Norway to Kirkenes, and they came up on bargain flights from Oslo, which is as far away as Montreal from Kuujjuaq—for less than $100 each way.

Or you could even drive all the way to Kirkenes, as I did, watching the scenery change from lush fields and forests to tundra.

Good transportation meant Kirkenes had a bright future in 2006. But its prosperity came from the ashes: in 1944, during the Second World War, Kirkenes burned to the ground. Then, through the 1960s, it thrived, mainly through its giant iron mine, which brought in 1,200 workers. Kirkenes had paved roads before any other community in the Norwegian Arctic as well as a swimming pool, a hospital and an airport.

Before that, the region of Kirkenes was a centre for the eastern Saami who called it “Akkalanjarga.” But the Saami traditional lands were broken up by the setting of the border between Norway, Russia and Finland, then by the development of the iron mine and all the people who came into the region…

The main street of Kirkenes: all ready for the partiers who would arrive later that day. It was in the 20Cs: every seat filled.

So I walked around town, visiting the Barents Secretariat, talking to a big fishing company owner and to a guy who worked at a corner store, for a Nunatsiaq News story that I would call, “Like Nunavut, with roads.”

I was feeling sociable because no one knew me enough to ask the questions I didn’t feel like answering, like “how are you?”

Throughout the day, I heard more Russian than Norwegian, and, although I was less than a hour from Russian border, I couldn’t cross to the Kola Peninsula and head to Murmansk. I would have had to send my passport to the Russian Embassy in Canada weeks before for a visa.

On my second evening in Kirkenes I sat at one of the outdoor patio bars with a Saami friend who had come to meet there. And the next day we headed off to the home of her parents by the Tana River which Saami call Deatnu.

I’ll let my photos speak for me here…you know. Some good times in the midnight sun, with lots of cloudberries (akpiq in Inuktitut, lakka in Finnish) and salmon, you want to keep for yourself.

The Tana River

And then I continued my drive….

The road I didn’t go down.
And I couldn’t drive fast.
And there were more reindeer.
I hit the coast and had to invent a selfie by these rocks.

And I kept on driving down the coast to a place called Havøysund with its Arctic wind park….

To be continued…

Miss Part 1? It’s here.

Or if you are interested in the links between Inuktitut, Saami and Finnish, here’s my take on it.