The 14th largest city of Sweden can be entirely without drinking water if a new electricity generator containing 220,000 litres of oil breaks open. The municipality’s environmental office has said no to constructing it, but Gävle’s politicians are overruling this. At stake is the city’s good name, as the power house will support the new data server halls of one of the the world’s biggest tech giants: Microsoft.

It is the Swedish state owned energy company Vattenfall that has requested an exclusion from normal environmental rules to build the transformer station containing tons of oil. Vattenfall argues its construction is extremely safe, that it will not leak and that it is needed to give Microsoft its electricity supply for the data server hall in Stackbo, Gävle. This is only one of Microsoft’s three locations in the area, as the company bought similar chunks of land in Gävle’s Ersbo and in Tuna in Sandviken. On each plot a server hall of 23,000 square metres will arrise. An alternative placement of the transformer means kilometres of additional powerlines above the landscape, Vattenfall argues, with risk of supply shortages in case a storm breaks the lines. A big basin underneath the power plant is able to catch all 220,000 litres of oil in the very unlikely even of a leakage, says the energy company.

Central Gävle

Microsoft’s investments are very important to the region. Not only do they come with millions of euros flowing into buying property and the construction of the buildings, they will also give Gävle a change to come back as an industrial power. The city has been struggling for years to combat unemployment, especially after Swedish tech giant Ericsson ceased its operations here a decade ago. Each new Microsoft location is to have at least 60 full-time employees, but spin-offs and the increased status is likely to attract more investors and create more jobs.

Historic city hall of Gävle

That’s why politicians in Gävle are so eager to facilitate the needs of the IT giant. But the area of the data server halls is also the number one provider of drink water to the region. In case the transformer house ruptures, Gävle will be out of drinking water, the city’s environmental office has warned. Include Sandviken and a total of almost 100,000 people might be affected by an oil spill. The negative impact on animals, the ecosystem and possibly even farmers’ food production is not included in this calculation.

Lake Storsjön centrally located in the area of the Microsoft server halls in Gävle/Sandviken
Lake Storsjön centrally located in the area of the Microsoft server halls in Gävle/Sandviken

It is up to the higher authority, the provincial board of Gävleborg, to decide if Vattenfall will be granted the exclusion to build the transformer in the very sensitive drinking water area, to serve Microsoft. Whether the board values the energy company’s and political argumentation over the environmental one is likely to be clear by the first week of May. | © 2020 Marcel Burger / (text and photos)

Featured (main) image: nature area just a few kilometres north of the Gävle/Sandviken locations of Microsoft