Interest was high when CICERO Center for International Climate Research and the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) on 1 March organised a debate on onshore wind power expansion in Norway.
Up for discussion were potential consequences of wind power development on land for the climate, for the natural environment, and for local economy of the places where turbines are installed.
The expansion of onshore wind power remains controversial in Norway, with many people fearing it could harm both nature and wildlife. Many are also questioning whether it is necessary for Norway to develop wind power at all, considering the country’s surplus of climate-friendly hydropower.
Norway has an annual power production surplus of about 5 TWh, and hydropower accounts for around 95% of the country’s electricity generation. Meanwhile, the share of wind power is currently less than 4%, according to the latest figures from Statistics Norway.
Norway’s population mainly positive
A recent survey found that 64% of the Norwegian population has a positive attitude towards Norway increasing its onshore wind power production, said Merethe Dotterud Leiren, senior researcher at CICERO.
"However, this does not mean that we can conclude that the large-scale development that is now underway is largely backed by the people," said Leiren.
"The fact that there is national interest in wind power does not necessarily mean that there is local interest, as attitudes to wind power as an idea is something different than attitudes to specific wind power plants," she added.
In the near future, wind turbines may account for 10% of Norway’s power production, according to Liv Lønnum, state secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy.
“Wind power seems particularly suitable for such a wintry country as Norway. Although wind power cannot be regulated, production is highest in the cold parts of the year. This means that wind power could contribute to reducing the risk of high electricity prices in Norway,” said Lønnum.
Will consider nature and biodiversity
The state secretary emphasised that the government understands that many people remain sceptical about large wind turbines being built in untouched Norwegian nature.
At the request of the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, NVE is currently developing a so-called national framework for wind power, which will be made public on 1 April.
The national framework will feature a map that shows which areas in Norway are best suitable for the development of wind power but will nevertheless take biodiversity and natural values into account, according to Lønnum.
“Not a plan to carpet bomb Norway with wind turbines”
“This is neither a plan to carpet bomb Norway with wind turbines, nor a protection plan. It’s about regulation and better control of wind power,” she said.
“When people refer to this as NVE’s wind power plan, that is highly misleading,” added Rune Flatby, department director at NVE.
“All new projects will still have to apply for a construction license, and could therefore be turned down,” he said.
“Unthinkable that we should depend on imports”
Bengt Eidem, communications director at Norwegian utility TrønderEnergi, said that Norway’s electricity demand is rising, and that we must develop more renewable energy if we are to be able to generate enough power to cover our own consumption also in the future.
“It is unthinkable that Norway should depend on importing electricity from other countries, so it remains clear that wind power will be part of the solution,” said Eidem.
“But if Norway is to reach its wind power development goals, the municipalities will need to get more clarity as to how much tax revenues they will receive from the wind power plants,” said Thomas Bjørdal from LNVK, an organisation that represents 47 Norwegian municipalities that either have or are planning to develop wind power.
“Important to stop climate change”
The Norwegian Tourism Organisation remains largely positive to wind power and the national framework but believes more time should be spent investigating what the consequences of expansion will be for different areas, said its secretary general, Dag Terje Klarp Solvang.
“We think things are moving way too quickly. The Norwegian Environment Agency has themselves stressed that the knowledge base is too thin,” said Solvang.
Marius Holm, CEO of environmental organisation ZERO, highlighted the fact that more renewable energy is needed if we are to be able to stop climate change but added that we should not build more new installations than necessary.
“We have large wind resources in Norway, but we should not develop all possible areas. We have great respect for the fact that there are reasons for sometimes saying no,” said Holm.
“Too many bad projects”
But according to Silje Ask Lundberg, leader of Friends of the Earth Norway, the authorities do not say no often enough.
“Far too many bad projects are being developed, with a lot of consequences for the natural environment they are built in,” she said.
Among the places where we should say no, are reindeer herding areas in Northern Norway, added Aili Keskitalo, president of the Sami Parliament of Norway. In Norway, only people belonging to the indigenous Sami population are allowed to herd reindeer.
Keskitalo compared the planned wind power development in Northern Norway to colonialism.
“The expansion is seizing areas that are already in use and is displacing an indigenous industry. The result of this is colonisation. Even if you paint it green, the effect for those affected is still the same,” she said.
Meanwhile, the main organiser of the event, CICERO Center for International Climate Research, is neither an advocate for, nor an opponent of, wind power expansion in Norway, noted CICERO director Kristin Halvorsen.
“We are not campaigning for either view. Our aim is rather to provide knowledge that will make it easier to make decisions on a contested issue,” said Halvorsen.
The seminar was organised as part of the research project WinWind, which is coordinated by Freie Universität Berlin and funded by the EU’s research and development programme Horizon 2020. CICERO and NVE are partners in this project.
You can watch the seminar in full here (in Norwegian).