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Danes go cold on wind farms

The nation that leads the world in wind-farm development is going cool on the environmentally friendly source of power.

Since the boom year of 2000, when as many as 748 turbines were erected, the number being built in Denmark has steadily fallen. So far this year, only six new wind turbines have been put up.

While many countries around the world are clamouring to buy Danish wind turbines, Denmark’s government is finding it difficult to convince its own population to accept an increase in the domestic use of the green technology.

Describing turbines as “poorly located, noisy and unsightly”, a number of local authorities, backed by grass-roots campaigners, are rejecting plans for new wind farms.

The situation has not been helped by a 2004 decision – the architect of which was Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister – to remove state subsidies for wind power, leaving it to market forces.

Two years on, the ruling Social Liberal-Conservative coalition appears ready to accept its mistake but, despite intense government efforts to promote clean technology, local opposition to a new wave of wind-power construction has reached fever pitch. Leading politicians say that is potentially catastrophic for the Danish energy sector.

The situation has resonance in Scotland, because Denmark is about a decade ahead in terms of wind-farm usage and the current dispute is indicative of what may transpire here.

After an about-turn on the issue in the summer, Mr Fogh Rasmussen says he is committed to reducing Denmark’s dependence on traditional fossil fuels. According to a forthcoming initiative, the government plans to meet 30 per cent of the country’s fuel needs with alternative forms of energy by 2025.

According to both councillors and local residents, the government’s decision to launch a new generation of 150m “super windmills” is as firmly rooted in economics as ideology.

Citing environment ministry figures, which confirm that offshore windmills cost nine times as much land-based ones, opponents have vehemently criticised the government for its willingness to ignore strict local authority planning guidelines in order to save money.

Notwithstanding these concerns, the government seems unrepentant about its plans to target rural areas for intensified energy development. Defending this decision, environment ministry officials have been at pains to underline the fact that many Danish wind farms are no longer energy-efficient and are in need of replacement if the government is to live up to its commitments.

Connie Hedegaard, the environment minister, is ready to overrule attempts by councillors to delay new-generation technology.

“We simply cannot continue to lead the world in the field of wind-power technology if we don’t even make room for wind parks in our own country,” she said. “The local authorities have a gigantic responsibility for the development of sustainable energy and the success of wind turbines. If they can’t find a solution in the near future, we [the Danish government] will pass a directive on the matter.”

Ms Hedegaard is awaiting the findings of a special wind energy committee, which will report later this month.

THERE are 5,276 land-based wind turbines in Denmark – one for every 8sq km. In addition, it has 210 turbines in offshore farms.

Scotland, by contrast, has 643 land-based turbines, meaning one for every 122sq km – although many more wind farms are in the planning stage.

The Danish wind-turbine industry is the world’s largest, employing 30,000 people and supplying 40 per cent of the world’s turbines. Only Germany comes close to this.

Worldwide, installed wind- power capacity has now reached 59,322 megawatts, an increase of 25 per cent over 2004.

By Alistair Thomson