New wind power protests turn ugly

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UPDATED: Another rash of angry demonstrations against wind energy projects has spread over Norway recently. Some protesters targeted Norway’s Oil & Energy Minister Tina Bru over the weekend, calling her nasty names and leaving her feeling physically threatened.

Oil Minister Tina Bru, opening the new Utsira Nord area for wind power production during the weekend. She was also met by angry demonstrators who threatened her, both in person and online. PHOTO: OED

“For the first time, I felt a real sense of discomfort,” Bru wrote on social media after the incidents in Haugesund on Sunday. “I was told that I should be ashamed, that I was destroying lives…”

The native of the nearby Stavanger area, home to Norway’s oil industry, said she had looked forward to formally announcing the opening of two new areas for wind energy projects off the west coast at Haugesund, “back home in the energy region of Rogaland.” As Norway tries to diversify its economy away from the oil industry and develop more renewable energy projects, wind power is often viewed as a a promising new industry that can build on Norwegian innovation in offshore technology. It’s also widely viewed as a more climate-friendly alternative to oil and gas.

But wind power also draws protests, because of the huge windmills (turbines) that many feel clutter the landscape, ruin wilderness areas and pose a threat to birds. Major protests have also been taking place at Haramsøya off Ålesund this past week, where police finally removed a car that had been parked on an access road to the project to prevent more construction. Demonstrators blocked the way up to Haramsfjellet where the turbines are to be erected, amidst angry claims that they’ll “destroy the island.”

The Socialist Left party (SV), which has battled the oil industry for years, actively supports demonstrations like the one at Haramsøya. SV wants to give local municipalities full control over wind power projects for three reasons: more power to the districts, local preservation of wilderness areas and wildlife, and to ensure that reindeer herding by the indigenous Sami aren’t adversely affected by windmills. The right-wing Progress Party has also fought wind power projects, as it also tries to appeal to more rural voters. Both Progress and SV are putting forth proposals in Parliament to reduce state power over the projects.

The new offshore areas for wind power production are marked in green. MAP: OED

Bru, meanwhile, was keen to support businesses specializing in wind power in one of Norway’s major test-centers for offshore power production. The so-called Norwegian Offshore Wind Cluster around Haugesund has national significance, and Bru was officially opening Norway’s first designated offshore areas for wind power dubbed Utsira Nord off Haugesund and Sørlige Nordsjø II near the offshore border to Denmark.

Bru has earlier approved development of the Hywind Tampen project as well, which will be the world’s largest floating wind power plant and deliver energy to the Snorre and Gulfaks oil platforms. All told the projects amount to what Bru called “a new chapter in the history of the renewable nation, the energy nation and the maritime nation of Norway.”

Demonstrators were not impressed, and just before Bru spoke at the Utsira Nord opening she was shaken by how they confronted her. After having to hear offensive and sexually graphic terms flung at her, she wrote that she was physically prevented from attending a meeting at Østensjø Rederi, one of the firms involved in wind energy. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), which editorialized strongly this week against such ugly demonstrations, also reported that Bru was subjected to death threats on social media and vague threats that she should be careful where she went.

“I’m used to meeting demonstrators against wind energy development and it normally goes well,” Bru told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after the confrontation. “Many have a need to speak out and that’s just fine. Yesterday it was different. I felt they were coming at us. We had to forge our way through them.”

Bru noted that most demonstrators simply exercise their freedom of expression. Those on Sunday “crossed a line,” she thinks. “On the contrary, they don’t respect democracy when they become threatening and violent.”

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund