Huge utility plans attract opposition -- Permits for 276 MW

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Licences for 135 turbines at three coastal sites in Norway have finally been granted to the state owned national power producer, Statkraft, perhaps ending a dispiriting chapter in the patchy saga of wind power development in the country. The announcement by the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Administration (NVE) that it had granted licences for sites at Smøla, Stad and Hitra came just in time for Christmas.

The developments are survivors of a number of ambitious schemes encouraged by the previous wind-friendly centrist coalition government, all of which seemed to have sunk without trace when the coalition collapsed last March and the new minority Labour administration focused instead on a controversial project involving the construction of several natural gas fired power stations (Windpower Monthly, April 2000). According to NVE, the three wind plants will produce a combined 770 GWh, more than a proposed (and similarly controversial) hydro project at Øvre-Otta.

On the island of Smøla, Statkraft is licensed to build 72 turbines with a combined capacity of 150 MW. The turbines will occupy 18 square kilometres and the project includes a 30 kilometre, 132 kV transmission line to the mainland. Statkraft's NOK 500 million development at Stad involves 35 turbines with a combined capacity of 70 MW on a three square kilometre site with a 26 kilometre, 132 kV power line; at Hitra, the investment is NOK 400 million for 28 turbines totalling 56 MW on a two square kilometre site with a ten kilometre grid link.

The estimated cost of wind power from the three sites is NOK 0.28/kWh (EUR 0.034). Government funding of NOK 300 million is expected, with completion of the first development at Smøla sometime in 2002.

The projects are attracting strong opposition, however, particularly from ornithologists. Among the fiercest critics is Norges Naturvernforbund (NNV), the influential Norwegian nature conservation society. Smøla and Stad in particular "are the worst conceivable sites for wind turbines," according to NNV's Erik Solheim. "Approval of these facilities will be a step towards blacklisting wind power as environmentally friendly energy. This is about preserving pristine, extremely valuable landscapes and preventing huge damage to bird life. No nature friendly electricity can originate in such areas."

Prior to NVE's announcement, the society described the expected licences as "a meaningless provocation" which would in effect "repeat the mistakes of the previous hydropower era."

Local opposition groups, the national ornithological society and some county officials have said they will appeal the decision in respect of all three sites. However, several non government organisations have expressed satisfaction that wind power in Norway seems finally to have got off the ground.

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