The Norwegian government went to the dramatic extent on Monday of halting, at least temporarily, construction of a highly contested wind energy project on the island of Frøya. It’s just one of many where windmill opponents have resorted to public demonstrations, civil disobedience and even vandalism in their efforts to block construction of the huge turbines they claim will ruin scenic nature forever.
The state government minister in charge of local governments, Monica Mæland of the Conservative Party, issued an order to stop all work by local utility TrønderEnergi and its partners on the Frøya project. Mæland and her ministry want to make sure there are no errors or omissions in the approval granted at the county level that had allowed the disputed development to proceed.
Mæland stressed that the government wasn’t taking a position on whether the so-called “windmill park” should be built. Given all the objections to the project, not just from local residents and officials but also from national organizations, the ministry saw a need to thoroughly review how county officials handled the issue and arrived at their conclusion.
“This is a difficult issue that will have major consequences for many,” Mæland stated in a press release late Monday afternoon. “I take the concerns of both the local government (on Frøya) and the residents seriously. It’s absolutely critical that everyone can feel assured that the ministry is making a sincere effort to review the case.” She added that the issue has “high priority” at the ministry.
The windmill project on Frøya faces so much opposition that local municipal officials had reversed their initial approval and ordered earlier this year that its developers, TrønderEnergi Vind AS, stop work on it. County officials later overturned the local government’s order and allowed the project to commence on May 13. Thus the state order stopping it again, which “surprised” TrønderEnergi.
“It’s important to note that the ministry hasn’t conducted a real evaluation of the case,” the power firm’s spokesman told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “We have stopped work while we wait for one.”
Frøya turned into a battleground
The uproar over windmills has turned the windswept island of Frøya on Norway’s northwest coast into a battleground of sorts for other contested windmill projects as well. Opponents claims the windmills are unsightly, noisy, threaten bird, insects and other wildlife, and put a permanent scar on otherwise untouched natural surroundings. Proponents claim Norway must develop its renewable wind energy potential, not least as a source of power at a time when calls keep rising to rein in Norway’s oil and gas industry and develop a greener economy and greener energy.
Environmental advocates face a dilemma, over whether it’s more important to support wind energy projects to reduce carbon emissions or to preserve the natural environment. The large national trekking association DNT, which champions the outdoors and preserving utouched nature, is firmly opposed to the Frøya windmill project and skeptical towards others. DNT has even organized “support marches for the nature,” and joined demonstrations against TrønderEnergi’s project.
Thousands were out marching in mid-May at 22 locations around Norway to protest windmill projects. “We don’t need to sacrifice untouched nature to electrify Norway,” claimed the board leader of DNT, Per Hanasand, to state broadcaster NRK as hundreds climbed mountains en masse to make their point. Norway has been generating hydroelectric power from its waterfalls for decades, and already sells electricity abroad.
In some areas, opposition to the windmills has turned ugly. Several excavators were drained of their oil after they’d been brought into the Varda mountains around Sandnes in Rogaland to start building roads for another windmill park. There have also been reports of vandalism and sabotage at windmill construction sites. “We see that the opposition to wind power has increased, also on social media,” Tomas Lindblad, in charge of building and operations for Res Nordisk wind power in Scandinavia, told NRK.
‘Victory for the climate’
More than 30 new windmill projects are due to be built in Norway over the next several years. They’ve won support from many politicians searching for alternatives to fossil energy. Environmental organization Zero calls the windmills “a victory for the climate,” while another, Naturvernforbundet, is firmly opposed. Even the Greens Party (MDG) was deeply split over the windmills at its annual national meeting over the weekend, finally settling on a compromise that it would only support windmill projects in areas where there already is an industrial presence.
Norway’s state environmental protection agency (Miljødirektoratet) reported this week that wind power projects in Norway currently stand to claim 630 square kilometers of untouched nature in the country, out of 142,500 still undeveloped. Many feel that’s not too much to sacrifice, others disagree.
Newspaper Aftenposten editorialized on Tuesday that the entire, increasingly heated debate of wind energy projects in Norway should spur ongoing development of wind power at sea. Norway’s vast offshore industry has the potential to develop the technology and knowledge that could lead to more offshore installations for windmills, in areas where the conflict between nature and the climate is less.
Scaring off investors
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported recently that the turmoil around the Frøya project in particular is frightening international investors in wind energy. The German firm Stadtwerke München has a 70 percent stake in it, and its Norwegian lawyers aren’t happy.
“Norway has traditionally been viewed as a country with almost zero political risk,” Oslo lawyer Tormod Ludvik Nilsen told DN. “What’s happening on Frøya has unleashed some reaction within our client base.” That was even before the government issued its order temporarily halting it. Frøya’s developers have already demanded compensation for the delays caused by the municipality’s change of heart earlier this spring, and now face more.
While opponents celebrated the government’s surprise decision to at least temporarily halt the Frøya project once again, officials at TrønderEnergi are frustrated and hurling accusations of their own. Chief executive Ståle Gjersvold has already lashed out at the young wealthy heir to a highly successful Frøya salmon producer, for financing opposition to the windmill project.
“It’s really something when someone who has become rich by exploiting the natural resources of the sea is now using his resources to ruin things for others’ production of renewable energy on land,” Gjersvold told DN. TrønderEnergi’s board leader Per Kristian Skjærvik has also stressed how TrønderEnergi and its partners were granted licenses to build windmills in accordance with “thorough processes” and “local participation,” and should be allowed to finally carry out the work that had been approved. He also notes that development of more renewable energy in Norway is in line with the policies of various state governments.
The bottom line, noted one commentator on Tuesday: “Everyone wants wind power, but not everyone wants windmills.”