Longyearbyen, coal mining and the men’s choir

Jennifer Kingsley
June 15, 2015

(Post 1 of 6)

Elisabeth Larsen led Eric and I to one of the most magical musical experiences we’ve ever had, and we met her outside the office of the local coal mining company, Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani.

Longyearbyen is home to the only coal-burning power plant in Norway. It’s just outside Elisabeth’s office. The town runs on 25,000 metric tonnes of coal per year; and it’s all mined just outside of town.

Elisabeth helps to sell Norwegian coal mined on Svalbard to the rest of the world. “Nobody likes coal,” she says, “But nobody wants to accept the fact that we don’t have anything to replace it with. Renewables are a long way off.”

Longyearbyen used to be a company town, but now there are only a few dozen people who work directly at the mine, though it’s still important to the local economy. A growing number of Longyearbyen’s 2,200 residents want to see coal mining stopped, but Elisabeth assured me that it doesn’t create tension between people.

To prove the point, she sent us off to buy concert tickets for a performance on Saturday night. “You’ll see,” she said. And we did. Check out the next post.

Elisabeth Larsen at the coal mine offices