Ministries attempt to steer research
November 29, 2010
Will more wind turbines reduce Norway’s use of more climate-threatening energy sources? Probably not, concluded a team of researchers asked to find an answer. They soon discovered that wasn’t the conclusion their client, the oil and energy ministry, wanted.
“The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy made it quite clear that this finding should be cut from the report,” scientist Carlo Aall told newspaper Aftenposten.
In the latest of a series of articles revealing state attempts to control or even manipulate research, Aftenposten reported on Monday that a ministry representative on the liaison committee between research institute Vestlandsforskning and the government wasn’t at all receptive to the researchers’ conclusions on the consequences of wind power. Aftenposten has reported earlier cases of attempts to alter researchers’ conclusions by the Labour Ministry, while 11 of 26 research institutes polled said they had experienced attempts by politicians or bureaucrats to alter their work.
In this latest case, the oil and energy ministry maintains that building wind turbine parks will protect the environment and lead to lower carbon dioxide emissions. The ministry believes energy from the windmills will replace old and environmentally harmful technology when they come on line. The assumption that such a substitution takes place is central in arguing for the usefulness of new technology in combatting climate change.
The question came to a head when scientists were asked to study the consequences of building more wind-driven power generators. Contrary to Norwegian energy policy, the scientists came to the conclusion that total energy consumption would rise. They believe wind energy will not replace polluting energy production, but will rather be an additional energy source. This was not what the oil ministry’s representative in the reference group wanted to hear.
“They were very critical about us sowing doubt about whether renewable energy would become a substitute for fossil fuel energy,” the author of the report, scientist Cato Aall of Vestlandsforkning told Aftenposten. The ministry’s representative, he said, claimed the researcher’s conclusion was incorrect and irrelevant. The reference to the effect of more wind energy was thus not included in a press release on the issue, but was retained in the report itself.
The ministry liaison rejects suggestions of government interference. “I have no knowledge of our exercising any pressure in this case,” says Ivar Vigdenes to Aftenposten.
When asked if renewable energy, like wind power was likely to lead to lower consumption of environmentally harmfull energy sources, Vigdenes answered: “We believe that one of the main ways to solve the problem of climate change, is to build more renewable energy production. It is one of our three climate initiatives: renewable energy, carbon capture and energy conservation.”
He says that both the ministry and the International Energy Agency (IEA) reckon that more renewable energy replaces other alternatives. It was unclear, then, why the ministry sought more research on the issue.
The government minister in charge of higher education and research, Tora Aasland, has earlier chided some of her fellow ministers or their staffs over attempts to steer research.