A majority of Trøndelag residents want to let controversial wind turbines in the Fosen area keep operating, but only if the rights of Sami reindeer herders in the area are respected. That’s unlikely, leaving the controversy literally up in the air, especially when the government still has no plans to take them down.
“That just shows why this is all so difficult for the politicians,” Tone Sofie Aglen, political commentator for state broadcaster NRK, said on Friday, three weeks after massive demonstrations in Oslo against the Fosen turbines. “The majority want both wind turbines and protection of Sami rights.” That’s difficult, because the turbines in the Fosen wind power project lack a valid license after Norway’s own Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that they violate the Samis’ human rights.
Aglen was responding to a new new survey conducted last week by research firm Norstat for NRK and Trondheim-based newspaper Adresseavisen. Fully 63 percent responded that the turbines should keep operating, but without violating human rights. Only 20 percent think the turbines should be dismantled and the landscape restored to its natural state. Another 17 percent think the turbines should be retained even if they violate human rights.
The conflict pits the Samis’ rights to reindeer grazing against urgent needs for renewable energy in the area. Local Sami claim the turbines disturb their reindeer and disrupt access to traditional grazing area. The turbines, meanwhile, generate enough electricity to power large areas and help bring down high electricity rates.
Oil & Energy Minister Terje Aasland of the Labour Party remains under pressure to resolve the conflict but has no plans to tear down the huge windmills. In a recent address to Parliament, Aasland said the government still sees no legal demand in the Supreme Court decision to remove the turbines or shut down their operation until a valid license is in place. He claims the government continues to seek coexistence between the turbines and reindeer herders and needs “updated knowledge” in order to achieve that.
Demonstrators suspect he’s simply dragging out the issue, which is what they accused the government of doing for the more than 500 days since the court decision was handed down. The government can’t seem to accept defeat and is left in a quandry.
“We will follow up this (conflict) over human rights, and of course not violate the indigenous peoples’ rights,” Aasland said in Parliament. “Then we need good processes with the weight on competence, experience and local expertise.” He denies the government is continuing to use delay tactics, but more than the Sami are skeptical.
“Human rights are being violated every single day, and that’s totally unacceptable,” Lars Haltbrekken, a Member of Parliament for the Socialist Left Party (SV), told newspaper Klassekampen after Aasland’s address last week. “The government can’t study itself out of a Supreme Court decision.”
The Reds and Greens parties think the windmills should be removed, a radical position for parties that both champion renewable energy over oil and gas. One thing is clear: Activists who led the eight days of demonstrations in Oslo were sitting in the gallery while Aasland spoke, and have threatened to renew their protests if they don’t see enough progress on resolving the issue.
The Sami Parliament, meanwhile, has called for an independent investigation of how the state has handled the Fosen wind power project. Its president, Silje Karine Muotka, sees no need for more studies of a license that Norway’s highest court has deemed invalid.