Heavyweight help

Google Translate

Greenpeace has picked up the wind energy flag. Its first public relations onslaught -- blessedly restrained and sensible -- ferried a sizeable posse of international journalists and worthies out to sea for a close look at Denmark's Tunø Knob wind farm. The occasion last month of the fourth pan-European conference of environment ministers in the city of Aarhus presented Greenpeace with the perfect platform for its "Danish Wind Tour." Once aboard the good ship "MV Greenpeace," the more than 50 captive guests, including a couple of strays from the oil industry, were force fed with facts about wind power in a series of industry presentations. To make it all palatable, an organic lunch was served -- thankfully after and not before the bouncy rubber-launch trips among the Vestas turbines. Steaks from nurtured cattle were barbecued on deck in flourishing style by a professional hired for the day, while a small army of Greenpeace folk -- all uniformed in T-shirts bearing the words "offshore wind power not oil" -- catered to every wish and whim.

Just the sight of "motor vessel" Greenpeace at the dock in Aarhus was emotive. Its green hull is surprisingly familiar from TV pictures of daring-do on the high seas. As a symbol of environmental freedom fighting, the ship packs an unexpectedly powerful punch. For wind power to be associated with Greenpeace's brand of campaigning is a sign of the times. Although wind has been a popular movement in some countries, the cause has been promoted not by raging greens, but by gentlemen academics and earnest businessmen. Indeed, the sight last month of so many suits strolling the decks of MV Greenpeace must have been hard to swallow for at least some of the organisation's veteran campaigners. A lanky crew member in dungarees, her dark eyes flashing beneath a scarf tied pirate style across her forehead, looked none too friendly as she glowered at us from her perch high on the deckhouse roof, long hair whipping in the wind.

Greenpeace, though, has changed. Much of the old dangerous-to-life-and-limb radicalism has been tempered by a more conciliatory approach. These days, Greenpeace officials visit oil company boardrooms not to hurl insults and worse at the bosses, but to talk and to listen. As Denmark's environment minister Svend Auken smilingly said to guests aboard the ship: "It's nice to see Greenpeace being positive about something for once." There is no doubting the enormous international weight of Greenpeace. In the organisation's present responsible frame of mind, that weight behind wind power could well work wonders.

The program for the Danish Wind Tour was an organisational masterpiece; even the navy would have been impressed. Below decks there was evidence of intensive crew briefings: facts about offshore wind, about foundations and output, about costs, about Denmark's goals -- 50% of electricity from wind by 2030, including 4000 MW offshore, 650 MW already planned. Greenpeace staff knowledgeable about renewables were drafted in from four countries. A corps of Greenpeace photographers and press officers rushed news and pictures to the wires as the day came to a close. No less than three thousand colour brochures, "Danish Wind Energy -- An Industrial Success story," were printed -- they are better than anything the wind industry has done on the subject. On deck, specially made promotional banners fluttered in the wind -- and guests were showered with T-shirts on departure. The cost of the jamboree was not something Greenpeace International's new wind campaigner, Corin Millais, would be drawn on. It was not cheap.

Opportunity knocks

The next move by Greenpeace is largely up to the wind industry. Millais wants input from a continuing collaboration. Promotion of wind power has inched its way into Greenpeace's influential -- and well financed -- climate change campaign. Keeping it there is an opportunity the industry must not miss. One of Greenpeace's strengths is the depth of its research and PR capabilities. The most recent exposé of subsidies to the US fossil fuel industry (page 29) is typical of how Greenpeace presents complicated issues in a powerful straightforward way. The organisation could choose to do the same for wind. In America, renewal of the production tax credit and the broad introduction of a Renewables Portfolio Standard are issues begging for lobbying support. In Europe, strong input is needed to help shape a pan-European energy policy -- and it must be acceptable to all states. There was no doubting the message from Auken and his British counterpart, Michael Meacher, aboard MV Greenpeace: the draft White Paper on renewables smacks too much of Brussels big brother intervention. The shift from fossil fuels to renewables must be made, they both agreed amidst smiles and much bonhomie. But a re-think is needed of how to do it. Fiscal policies must be separated from a broad European strategy, said Auken. Meacher nodded. Fiscal policies have an important role, added Meacher, but they are a matter for individual governments, not the European Commission.

No wonder, if these are the views of environment ministers, that the White Paper was not adopted by energy ministers (Windpower Monthly, June 1998). And no wonder that competitive market mechanisms such as targets and trading -- rather than command and control legislation like Germany's REFIT -- are becoming the preferred policy options for a pan-European approach. Following last month's burden sharing agreement on greenhouse gas reductions (page 17), governments are calling for an acceptable package of "common and co-ordinated policies and measures." Greenpeace, your skills could provide a first draft.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles
and free email bulletins.

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in