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Wind power development has varied significantly among Nordic countries
Researchers believe it is unlikely that Norway will see much new onshore wind power development in the coming years.
“Wind power is one of several tools for supporting electrification while also addressing climate change,” Jon Birger Skjærseth says.
He is a senior researcher at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI), specialising in European climate and energy policies.
“However, understanding the factors that facilitate or hinder the long-term development of wind power is crucial. The Nordic countries share many similarities, but their approaches to wind power expansion have resulted in different rates of development,” he says.
Norway: Local resistance
In Norway, there were many developers who, until 2016/2017, held concessions to buildland-based wind power, but were waiting for it to become commercially profitable.
When support systems and technology finally paved the way for profitable development, this triggered a surge in wind power projects.
Along with less involvement from the municipalities when energy was removed from the Norwegian Planning and Building Act (2008) ahead of large-scale developments, this later contributed to significant protests and a halt in new wind power concessions.
“It's unlikely that Norway will witness much new onshore wind power development in the coming years, even with the recent legislative change that grants local politicians more influence,” Tor Håkon Jackson Indeberg at FNI says.
Skjærseth and Inderberg, along with researchers from other Nordic countries, have recently authored a scholarly book that compares wind power policy developments across the region.
In their new book, they note how Sweden and Denmark have experienced greater local involvement, which has helped to mitigate conflicts.
“This has allowed these two countries to achieve significant expansion without facing popular uprisings like those seen in Norway,” Inderberg says.
Sweden: Surpassed the old pioneer
Denmark has been a global pioneer, with the Danish company Vestas ranking among the world's largest wind power producers.
“In Denmark, wind power has been synonymous with ‘green growth’, and it's only in recent years that some resistance has emerged,” Skjærseth says.
Sweden started almost from scratch 20 years ago. In 2003, the large-scale expansion of renewable energy began, and by 2013, the Swedes surpassed the Danes in installed wind power capacity.
“Since then, Sweden has nearly doubled its capacity, emerging as the undisputed leader of wind power production within the Nordic region. Many may not be aware of this, but the figures speak for themselves,” Skjærseth continues.
He presents a compelling graph that illustrates Sweden's leadership in wind power production, compared to the other Nordic countries, Finland, Norway, and Denmark:
Now, resistance is also increasing in Sweden. The growing height of the wind turbines was a prerequisite for wind power to become commercially profitable, but it has also become a point of contention in both Norway and Sweden.
Finland: The quiet pragmatist along Russia's vast border
Finland presents a different landscape.
“In Finland, wind power is primarily a technical-administrative concern rather than a political one," Skjærseth says.
He explains that the challenge lies in Finland's radar systems along the Russian border. The Finnish military can restrict wind turbines within 40 kilometres of military radar installations, to prevent signal interference.
Iceland is not included in the comparative book, simply because the country has minimal wind power.
“Iceland possesses abundant geothermal and hydropower resources, rendering wind power unnecessary,” he explains.
A sudden and unexpected need for power expansion
Until a few years ago, industry and authorities believed that Norway would have an energy surplus for the foreseeable future. Therefore, there was no significant political pressure for wind power expansion.
“When wind power development became commercially
appealing, it coincided with the EU and Norway intensifying their climate
policies, laying the foundation for a new demand for power related to climate
mitigation and electrification. Paradoxically, this coincided with the halt in
new wind power concessions,” Skjærseth explains.
Norway now faces a political decision about the electrification of the Barents Sea LNG plant Melkøya. This will require extensive power development in Finnmark, a vast and sparsely inhavited region of North Norway. What will happen?
“It's not the politicians who grant concessions. It's the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE). Even though the NVE has received political signals to prioritise development in Finnmark, several challenges will make such expansion difficult,” Inderberg says.
He points to considerations related to nature and Sami culture.
“Even though Norwegian municipalities have gained more power and greater financial incentives for approving wind power projects, the debate has reached a stalemate. We do not anticipate significant changes in the near future, even with important changes in the concession system,” Inderberg concludes.
Skjærseth et al. 'Wind Power Policies and Diffusion in the Nordic Countries: Comparative Patterns', Palgrave Macmillan, 2023. (Summary)
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