A distant light shines at the end of the tunnel -- Pulse quickens in Norway

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Under Norway's seemingly frozen wind market lurk signs of a thaw, according to the national wind energy association, NorWEA. On the surface, however, little has changed, with just three developments with a combined capacity of 61.4 MW, bringing the Norwegian total to 386 MW at the end of 2007.

Of the three projects, the largest was installation of nine Scanwind 3.5 MW turbines at Hundhammerfjellet for Nord-Trondelag Elektrisitet, which owns the production line for the Scanwind turbine, a direct drive machine with a permanent magnet generator. Slightly smaller, at 27.6 MW, was a project of 12 Enercon 2.3 MW machines from Germany, erected for TrønderEnergi at Bessakerfjellet. The smallest project was erection of a solitary 2.3 MW turbine at Valsneset by VIVA AS.

The picture looks worse for 2008, with four more turbines (14 MW) to go up at Bessakerfjellet and 13 turbines (29.9 MW) still to be installed at Hundhammerfjellet. And that will be it, according to Lars Håkan Bjugan of the Norwegian Water & Energy Directorate (NVE). Meantime, a further 1407 MW of wind plant approved for installation by NVE languishes in the wings, with many more applications pending. Bjugan adds that the 80 MW Høg-Jaeren project may start production in 2009, but that is far from certain.

Even though NVE announced last month it was boosting manpower to clear its backlog of energy project applications, priority is being given to hydro, grid improvement and district heating projects. Wind power is at the bottom of the priority list, along with gas and coal projects. The ordering of priorities indicates that NVE, part of the oil and gas ministry, may know something about the Labour-led government's plans for renewable energy that the wind industry does not. Despite fine words and past promises, prime minister Jens Stoltenberg has yet to jump start a Norwegian wind power market.

Hidden light

NorWEA's Øyvind Isachsen, however, insists there is a hidden, more positive picture. In January, new energy minister Åslaug Haga made two critical moves, Isachsen says. She travelled to neighbouring Sweden to bone up on alternative energy and meet with her counterpart, Maud Olofsson, to revive talks on trading green energy certificates between the two countries. She also went to mid-Norway, where rising energy demand threatens to precipitate a power crisis, and while there announced a further NOK 500 million (EUR 63.5 million) for Enova, her ministry's renewable energy investment arm, which allocates capital subsidies to wind projects under a government program. If the 25% subsidy level is maintained, and all the money is used on wind, it is enough to support nearly 250 MW of development.

But if Haga or local politicians were hoping the money might serve as a carrot for utility Nord-Trondelag Elektrisitet (NTE) to resuscitate the 70 MW offshore Ytre Vikna project (which it put on ice in December) they are so far out of luck. NTE, despite already receiving EUR 18.5 million in capital support for Ytre Vikna, says it is waiting to see "something in writing" on how Haga or Enova plan to disburse the new funds.

"It is true that no one believes anything the government says about wind power anymore," Isachsen said. "We're in the third year of a red-green coalition government and not one wind turbine has been built on this government's support -- only those already planned on the last government's support."

But Isachsen says he believes Haga understands the importance of wind. She has promised, both formally in a recent parliamentary agreement and informally, that if no green certificates agreement with Sweden is forthcoming by July 1, she will submit a plan to double Norway's current wind power purchase subsidy from its current meagre NOK 0.08/kWh (EUR 0.01/kWh), bringing it to a level more in keeping with Sweden's incentives. Wind power developers can choose whether to apply for a capital subsidy or settle for the price subsidy.

NTE's Kenneth Brandsås, project manager at Ytre Vikna, agrees with Isachsen. He says Haga's negotiations with the Swedes and the pledge of an extra NOK 500 million are to be seen as government tokens of good faith. "We are very positive," he says. "Ytre Vikna is ready to start. All we are waiting for is something concrete from the government."

Marius Gjerset of Norway's Zero Emission Resource Organisation is critical of the country's performance on encouraging renewable development, but he says it is understandable. Norway already gets 99% of its electricity from renewables, mostly from hydro power. And it has grown rich on exporting oil and gas. Many in government see no need to exploit its wind riches.

On the other hand, Norway's goal is for 3 TWh of wind by 2010 and 30 TWh of renewables power by 2015. It has a long way to go. "Today's situation is bad, yes," says Gjerset. "Haga says she wants to change the system, and quickly, and I believe her. But how quickly can she do that? I hope and expect to have the decision for a better system by 2009 at the latest, but it might be 2010 before it comes into being."

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