Thirteen months into a second round of planning for a 30 turbine, 90 MW offshore development in the Swedish half of the Kattegat Sea off the country's south-eastern coast near Denmark, developer Favonius received a one-sentence bombshell of a faxed letter: "The defence department cannot accept your application."
"Favonius' managing director Jan-Åke Jacobson was astonished, especially since the proposed location for the so-called Skottarev project was inside an area specifically indicated for wind development and selected by the Swedish government in 2004 with input from the defence department.
"Yes, we were surprised a bit, but decided we must keep going forward," Jacobson says. The company quickly drafted a response asking the department in October to outline the reasons for its rejection of the project. As yet no reply has been received. Under Swedish law, the defence department is not required to explain a negative decision on a site application.
Hans-Björn Fischhaber, lieutenant colonel in the department, says internal statistics show a very low rate of overall rejections of wind power projects by the military -- around 15% of applications. "If you look at all the projects, eighty-five per cent approval is very good," Fischhaber says. "It seems like there are a lot of fairy tales out there about the military as a barrier to wind."
Behind the scenes, however, inside the halls of both the Swedish Energy Agency (SEA) and the sustainability ministry, the military's refusal to countenance the Skottarev project set off a flurry of speculation. The project is one of the earliest of a handful of medium-to-large offshore wind plant proposals applying for approval from the government, which has verbally expressed its eagerness to meet a national target for 10 TWh of wind power by 2015.
"If the decision on Skottarev means you get a no even if you are planning a development in an area designated as being of national interest for wind power development, then the idea of national interest areas is not very strong," says Sara Hallert of SEA. "I think that 'no' sends a signal to others and obviously slows down the process of getting approvals and meeting goals."
Fischhaber agrees that the "no" on Skottarev, emanating from the military's southern division, is a bit mysterious, but he maintains it is likely due to the project causing some perceived disturbance to air defence radar systems.
The government, or specifically the SEA, has tried to forestall exactly this sort of scenario. Back in 1998, SEA funded a five year research study of the barriers the country's defence interests posed to wind development. Fischhaber was one of the project managers. The amount invested in the study was small, SEK 10 million (EUR 1 million), but initial projects touched on radar and radio link interference from wind turbines, as well as some initial look at the effect of wind turbines on underwater marine systems and signalling.
The research report, while concluding more study is required, stated that the defence department's models could be a bit more generous with regard to radar effects. In 2003, the models were adjusted. At the same time the report cautioned wind project developers to, in future, pinpoint the exact location of proposed wind turbines in application papers to help the military most accurately apply the models.
A subsidiary of the Saab motor company, Aerotech Telub, worked during 2004-05 at the department's request to come up with yet another new calculation model for radar disturbances. "It's the specific blinding effect of towers in certain positions on the radar, and the extent of that blind zone that is the issue," says Olov Carlsson, head of spectrum management for Aerotech Telub in Växjö. Fighter planes might only pass through blind zones momentarily, Carlsson says, but helicopters can theoretically hover there for longer.
Aerotech Telub's new set of calculations modestly increased the size of that blind zone. The new calculations were last month presented to the defence department for approval. But while Carlsson prior to the approval meeting said he was optimistic that the department would be moving towards a policy change, which in turn might whittle down application refusal rates, after the meeting his optimism dimmed.
"The Swedish Defence Research Institute presented results that actually supported present conditions and modelling for approval/disapproval of new wind power stations," Carlsson said. "The result is that there will be no change in the decision criteria, yet."
One problem, which Fischhaber acknowledges, is that the different divisions of the military that have expertise in defence questions related to wind installations do not direct their concerns through a single entity. That situation is likely to only get worse as divisions face funding cuts and further reorganisation in future. Fischhaber, who has worked on wind questions for five years, will in future be responsible for emergency response services. He does not know if he will have a wind-educated successor.
When the Skottarev project received its curt "no" from the defence department, Favonius also requested assistance from the sustainability ministry and its outspoken leader Mona Sahlin, a champion of wind power. In October, the ministry announced a special task force would pull together six secretaries, including from the defence department, to identify roadblocks to approvals. But task force head Lars Andersson is very cautious on how much influence the group might have in the short term.
"Of course the defence question is on the priority list," he says. "But exactly how to address the issue isn't quite clear. We're having internal discussions."
SEA wants more transparency from the defence authorities and more certainty that "national interest" areas will pass muster. This year SEA plans to revisit the national interest map, plug in more detailed data about Sweden's wind resources and possibly add areas where both onshore and offshore development can go ahead.
"They've never wanted to say this or that entire area is okay," the SEA's Hallert says. "This is serious for us and for the defence department. It is an area where we both need to keep dialogue going."
Kjell-Åke Ericsson, another project manager on the five year research study on turbine effects on military defences, says the military needs more research and more time to satisfy some of its concerns. "We need simulated studies and actual flight studies using military planes," Ericsson says. "There really is a willingness to try and solve the problems. I think we do have to co-operate, but we don't have the financial resources to do the research."
Both Ericsson and Hallert suggest that more research is needed and SEA would be the most likely department to foot the bill. Yet even if a new round of studies was immediately approved, Ericsson says he believes it would take 18 months before useful data might emerge. If wind turbines are still considered a serious disturbance after that research, developers might have to consider radar devices installed on turbines, Ericsson says. The extra expense for developers, he adds, might have the benefit of offering better operational data from installations.
Ericsson says the defence department is planning to offer up a new round of possible research areas to SEA in the first quarter of 2006. He believes workable solutions for all the military's objections could eventually be found.
Carl-Ivar Stahl, Hallert's colleague at SEA, is a little less sanguine. "We have to find solutions," he says. "This barrier shouldn't exist, we should have worked it out by now. It all should have been done years ago."
Meanwhile Favonius' Jacobson may have a new set of hurdles to take his mind off the military's refusal. Not only is a group of neighbours objecting to the Skottarev project's effect on their ocean views, local fisherman have begun clamouring that the 30 turbines are planned smack in the middle of one of the last playgrounds in Swedish waters for schools of endangered cod.