Finnish support to win over Green Party

FINLAND: The centre-right Finnish government has increased its support for renewable energy in order to win the Green Party over to its nuclear expansion plans.

Construction of the Oikiluoto 3 reactor in Finland
Construction of the Oikiluoto 3 reactor in Finland

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The package, which the government expects to finalise in October or November, will include improved subsidies and tax breaks for large wind farms. The government hopes it will help realise its ambition of building 2GW of new wind power capacity in Finland by 2020.

In May, the four-party coalition government supported the licence for the construction of two or three nuclear reactors. This would have normally attracted broad criticism from groups within the Eduskunta (parliament), including the Greens, who are opposed to an increase in the country's nuclear energy base.

However, prime minister Matti Vanhanen had infused the plan with a counterbalance of new investments and state support for wind and biofuels. The cornerstone of this is a new target for Finland to secure 38% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Renewables currently contribute 28% of the country's energy, mostly from biomass.

A preliminary decision on granting licence permits for two nuclear power plants had been made in April. However, there was dissension inside the coalition, with Green ministers Anni Sinnemaki and Tuija Brax voting against the awarding of the permits.

The Greens were sceptical about one of the applications by Fennovoima. They questioned the company's technical and economic ability to handle and store nuclear waste. These complaints were dismissed by its government partner, the Centre Party.

"We have had the capability in Finland to handle both temporary and the final storage of nuclear waste for years," said economic affairs minister Mauri Pekkarinen of the Centre Party. "I doubt that this will become a problem, or an issue, for Fennovoima."

The Green Party eventually signed off the energy package after the government strengthened its support of renewables, though it maintained it was still against nuclear power.

"We will work to ensure that the government lives up to its commitments regarding new generation from wind power and biofuels," says justice minister Tuija Brax.

The Eduskunta is expected to vote on the construction of the two nuclear power plants at the beginning of July. This vote takes place against a backdrop of party positioning before parliamentary elections in March 2011.

The Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Finance (MoF) have formed a working party to investigate how Finland's energy mix can be balanced. Nuclear and wind energy in particular have not traditionally been seen as good partners due to the need for nuclear to be operational 100% of the time.

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