Both praise and objections were blowing around Norwegian plans announced on Tuesday to go ahead with what’s billed as the largest land-based windmill project in Europe. State-owned energy firm Statkraft, local utility TrønderEnergi and an investor consortium called Nordic Wind Power plan to build the windmills on the Fosen peninsula, at Hitra and in Snillfjord.
It’s a coastal area in the central portion of Norway known as Trøndelag that’s been determined to have some of the best wind conditions for power production in Europe. That’s helped justify the decision to invest NOK 11 billion (USD 1.3 billion) in the project, after earlier plans were dropped last summer because of profitability concerns. The various players involved have worked since, they told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), to avoid losses, aided by new technology that already has made the windmills themselves more efficient and profitable.
“This is very good news, that there will be wind power construction in Trøndelag,” Monica Mæland, the government minister from the Conservative Party in charge of business and trade, stated on Tuesday. She called the project “one of the absolute largest industrial projects on the mainland” and claimed it would provide “a considerable boost” for more renewable energy in Norway.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg was also pleased, noting that the project will create new jobs, provide more renewable energy in Norway and “show that the framework in Norway is good and attracts concrete investment.”
Statkraft, wholly owned by the Norwegian state, will own 52.1 percent of the company set up to own the windmills, called Fosen Vind DA. TronderEnergi will own 7.9 percent of Fosen Vind and Nordic Wind Power the remaining 40 percent. Statkraft described Nordic Wind Power as a European consortium of investors put together by Credit Suisse Energy Infrastructure Partners and supported by the Swiss energy firm BKW. It bought out shares in the project previously held by local utilities Agder Energi, TrønderEnergi and Nord-Trøndelag Elektrisitetsverk (NTE).
“This is an important day for Statkraft and for Norway,” stated Statkraft’s chief executive, Christian Rynning-Tønnesen. The company he leads specializes in hydroelectric power and already ranks as Europe’s largest supplier of renewable energy, with 4,200 employees in more than 20 countries. This project is its “biggest in many years,” he said, and will make Statkraft “one of the leading players within wind power on land.”
The first new windmills in the project are expected to be delivered and mounted by 2018, and when operational and generating 1000MW, provide power to around 170,000 households. Mæland said construction will begin later this spring and the entire project will be completed in 2020.
Rynning-Tønnesen admitted the windmills will produce more power than needed in Norway, “but this is a step in the direction of more environmentally friendly restructuring of power production in all of Europe.” The windmills will be connected to a new line for a central power network being built south from Namsos.
Not everyone is pleased by the prospect of huge windmills along the Norwegian coast. While environmental groups are constantly promoting renewable energy and urging alternatives to Norway’s oil and gas industry, wind energy is controversial because of the site of the turbines themselves, the noise they can produce and the hazards they pose to birds.
Staffan Sandberg, county coordinator for the Forum for Nature and the Outdoors in Sør-Trøndelag, told local newssite Fosna-Folket that it was “a dark day” for the local landscape. “It’s seldom that a single decision like this can destroy so much nature as this one,” Sandberg said. “Large outdoor areas that are important for both the nature and outdoor life will be lost. There should be a limit to how much land can be destroyed, while still billing something like this as ‘green energy’ and good for the environment.”
Some local groups of Norway’s indigenous Sami also expressed concerns for their reindeer grazing. One reindeer owner, Arvid Jåma, went so far as to call the windmill project a “catastrophe” for his group of southern Sami folk in Fosen.
“This is very bad news,” Jåma told Fosna-Folket. He fears the Sami reindeer herders will lose at least 33 percent of their winter grazing lands, and called the windmill project “vulgar.” The remaining land left unaffected will be too small to support the herds, he said, predicting “it will be the end for many of us. We need large land areas for the reindeer.”
Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbundet) also expressed disappointment over the planned windmill project. “It’s sad that Statkraft, with help from foreign companies, will now destroy valuable Norwegian nature,” said Steinar Nygaard, leader of the group in Sør-Trøndelag. “We’re talking about half of the untouched nature that’s left in Sør-Trøndelag. Waterways and threatened bird species will be affected, also the Sør-Sami reindeer areas.”
The organization, which claims that 258 square kilometers of land will be affected by the windmills, generally supports renewable energy. “But when it’s built out, we need to take care of the outdoors,” stated Lars Haltbrekken, national leader of Naturvernforbund. “The wind power at Fosen is a very ugly example of how that doesn’t happen in practice.”
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