Denmark

Denmark

All eyes on Denmark

Twenty-five years after the first wind turbine was connected to the Danish electricity network, more than 6000 turbines are today meeting up to 20% of Denmark's electricity consumption. But it has become clear there are too many wind turbines, and the smaller and older units must be replaced by fewer and larger machines. This is the background for today's political discussions on restructuring the wind market, prompted by energy minister Svend Auken (see main article 'Danish market reform'). At this stage the changes are only proposals for political discussion. But the intention is clear: many old turbines are for the chop. Moreover, the proposals are likely to throw a shadow of uncertainty over future investors in Danish wind power. As the world's recognised leader in the field of wind energy, what Denmark does has ramifications throughout the wind power world.

On November 1, 1976, the first series produced wind turbine following the world energy crisis was connected to the Danish electricity network. The turbine was rated at 22 kW and its production was barely visible in the electricity system. Twenty-five years later more than 6000 wind turbines are today meeting up to 20% of Denmark's electricity consumption. That's two years ahead of the government's official wind power plan -- a fact being made abundantly clear in actions being taken by the Danish energy ministry and parliament. In short: there are too many wind turbines, and the smaller and older units must be replaced by fewer and larger machines.

This is the background for today's political discussions on restructuring the wind market, prompted by energy minister Svend Auken (page 20). Of the many proposals on the table, only an extension of the existing financial stimulation package for replacement of old turbines with new machines will benefit the wind power development model for which Denmark is internationally known -- citizens' investment in citizens' wind turbines. The remaining proposals have the character of a dramatic break away from 25 years of Danish wind power policy. First, the long awaited green certificate trading market is to be postponed for two years, to be replaced by new reductions in the wind tariff for turbines over ten years old, bringing it down to $0.047/kWh, about half the German tariff. The right to trade in green certificates is to be removed from the owners of wind turbines over 20 years old, cutting off that source of income. And utility distribution companies will no longer be bound to buy wind power.

At this stage the changes are only proposals for political discussion. But seen in the light of the passive political acceptance of a wind market fast grinding to a halt -- all wind turbines erected over the past two years were ordered before the end of 1999 -- the intention is clear: the many old turbines are for the chop. And if owners decline to take them down with good grace, proposals will be realised that make operation of old wind turbines so unprofitable that they will stop running of their own accord for lack of funds.

In a small country with limited land area, there is a deal of good sense in replacing small, old turbines, which often occupy good windy sites, with fewer, larger and more effective machines. The around 2600 turbines over ten years old in Denmark are spread throughout the landscape, often outside the wind development zones which have come into being since. But the "big stick" method of persuasion being discussed by government and parliament to achieve a sensible rationalisation contains high risk elements.

The most serious risk is that the broad public support which wind power enjoys in Denmark could be irreparably damaged. As many as 150,000 families, 5% of the Danish population, have bought wind turbines or shares in wind turbines. It is these people who sparked life into a whole new industry and all its employment benefits, an achievement without comparison in Denmark. So when the chairman of the wind turbine owner's association, Flemming Tranæs, warns that these families -- who have literally invested their life savings in the government's energy policy -- will regard the current political manoeuvring as a severe provocation, it is hard to argue with him.

Second, the proposals are likely to throw a shadow of uncertainty over future investors in Danish wind power, offshore wind included. Removal of the government obligation on the utility sector to build the final three of five 150 MW offshore demonstration projects is up for discussion. The proposal now is that they go out to open tender -- and the tender be structured to allow small investors the chance to take part. But how many will dare? And would it be wise to do so? The borders in the EU have fallen and citizens from other countries can buy into wind turbines on Danish soil. An overseas buyer is already waiting in the wings to take over 50 brand new turbines in Denmark, the first ever to fall into foreign hands if the deal goes through (page 21). At the same time, shares in German offshore wind plant are being advertised in a lucrative offer to Danish citizens by OSB Offshore-Bürger-Windpark Butendiek.

Last but not least is the risk involved in a government sending out peculiar signals which suggest internationally that it is suddenly losing faith in wind power. As the world's recognised leader in the field of wind energy, what Denmark does has ramifications throughout the wind power world.

What the people want

There is no argument that the Danish landscape would be well served by replacing outdated and poorly sited technology with far more efficient and better placed wind turbines. But behind the current political manoeuvring is a lurking suspicion that the antics of a small, but noisy, anti wind turbine group, Neighbours to Wind Turbines, has put the frighteners on a number of politicians, making them believe that the people have had enough of wind power. That is not the case. No less than five public opinion surveys have been carried out between 1989 and 2001, among them a local referendum in an area with many wind turbines. The results of all surveys unanimously reveal that between 68% and 82% of the people of Denmark support wind power and want to see the installation of more new wind turbines.

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