Locals win power over wind power

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After years of controversy, more political power over wind power projects on the Norwegian mainland has blown into the hands of local government officials. Municipalities, not the state, will decide whether they want to offer open areas to wind power developers and the huge turbines they build.

The large turbines needed to generate wind power remain controversial, but state officials hope conflict levels will now decline.  PHOTO: KMD

Norway’s three non-socialist government coalition parties have reached agreement with their former partner, the conservative Progress Party, over changes in how wind power projects will be handled. State policy hammered out this week involves subsidy cuts, a shift in licensing from the state to the kommuner (municipalities) where wind power developers want to operate, and stricter demands for project development.

“This has always been about strengthening local democracy in these projects,” Terje Halleland, a Member of Parliament for the Progress Party who sits on its energy and environment committee, stated in a press release issued by all four parties involved in the wind power settlement: Progress, the Conservatives, the Christian Democrats and the Liberal parties.

Liv Kari Eskeland of the Conservatives also claimed that the changes in wind power policy for new projects “will secure local participation to the highest possible degree.” She noted that local municipalities that accept wind power projects will also receive state compensation as local hosts.

Protests have blown hard
Projects from Rogaland to Trøndelag and beyond have triggered huge protests in recent years. Many local residents don’t want huge and often noisy turbines towering over their communities. The indigenous Sami claim the turbines disturb reindeer grazing. Wildlife organizations have warned against birds being killed by the oversized windmills.  Outdoor enthusiasts including the national trekking association DNT have objected mightily to turbines littering scenic landscapes. Particularly noisy and lengthy protests have taken place near Haugesund and at Haramsøya in Ålesund, where many residents claim turbines due to be built on a local mountain plateau and power more than 7,000 homes will instead “destroy” their community.

Wind power projects have also split climate- and environmental activists who otherwise support renewable energy as an alternative to oil and gas. Developers, meanwhile, have been frustrated by seemingly endless delays and expensive postponements caused by local opposition to nationally approved projects. Legal challenges have delayed some projects, like the one at Haramsøya, for as long as 20 years.

Aiming to reduce conflict
Now the four-party majority in Parliament hopes for a broad majority in Parliament for their compromise that also will set firm deadlines for wind power projects to be actualized within five years of an approved application. It will become more difficult to alter applications that are approved. A separate budget proposal will fund compensation to host communities that approve projects.

The main goal, according to the four parties, is to reduce conflict over turbine construction and provide developers with more predictability. The height and number of turbines must also remain firm and in accordance with what’s approved in initial licensing.

Not all wind power opponents in Parliament are satisfied. “This is too little, too late from the government and the Progress Party,” the leader of the Reds Party, Bjørnar Moxnes, told news bureau NTB. “What we need now is a total halt to new wind power projects on land, so that the nature and local communities can breathe again.”

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund