Government stops approved projects -- Furore over wind power in Norway

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Norway's nascent wind power development program is in chaos after two government agencies unexpectedly called for eight of 13 proposed projects to be stopped on environmental grounds. Three of the projects, for a total of 275 MW of wind power at sites along the Norwegian west coast, had already been granted licences by yet a third national authority, the Water Resources and Energy Administration (NVE), and all had been confidently expected to go ahead.

In a strongly worded joint statement issued on June 7, the Directorates of Nature Management (DN) and Cultural Heritage (RA) said: "Freedom from emissions is not enough to justify classification of a wind power facility as environment friendly. Natural values, outdoor recreation, landscape/aesthetics, and cultural heritage and cultural environment must also be taken into account."

Noting that widespread objections to several of the projects had been filed with the environment and energy ministries, the statement accuses NVE of excessive leniency in its "requirements for preliminary and follow-up investigations" and, despite the large number of proposed installations, of failing to carry out any "unified planning of wind power development in Norway."

The two directorates recommend a thorough overhaul of planning procedures for wind power in order to avoid "unacceptable and unnecessary conflicts and environmental destruction." Development should be carried out on a "step by step" basis in order to learn from mistakes and change course if necessary "in accordance with the precautionary principle." Government environmental agencies should play "an active role" in any future development and that role must be more precisely defined than has been the case.

The agencies are adamant that there should no development at Stadland, Smøla II, Fræna and Ytre Vikna, "in consideration of the very great natural and cultural values found in these localities." The large number of applications currently filed means that Norway can meet its target of 3 TWh of wind power by 2010 without any need to encroach on such areas of "great national and international significance," given "a more integrated planning process."

A further three projects at Straumøya in Bodø, Domen in Vardø and Bremanger are described as "inadvisable," while five sites are given the all-clear: Skjøtningeberg in Lebesby, Hunhammarfjellet in Nærøy, Hammerfest, Hitra, and Havøygavlen in Måsøy.

The announcement at the end of last year that NVE had finally issued licences to the state-owned national power producer Statkraft for 135 turbines (275 MW) at Smøla, Stad and Hitra appeared to signal a breakthrough in Norway, which has lagged far behind its Nordic and European neighbours in wind development. As the environment and energy ministries consider their response to the recommendations, something of a national debate has broken out on the very philosophy of conservation and the near-impossibility of reconciling environmentally correct but mutually exclusive goals.

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