Norway sets target and boosts spending

Norway's self proclaimed environment-friendly coalition government has not shown much concrete progress for renewable energy in the last year, but that situation could be changing with the recent announcement of a bold wind target and a boost in funding.

The government's dismal record has brought howls of protest from environmental groups, who have accused it of failing to follow through on a series of windy generalities. Recent figures released by Norway's department of water resources and energy, NVE, show that it has accepted only 35 of 231 funding applications for renewables projects this year, a success rate of about 15%. It is unclear, however, if NVE's reluctance to invest in wind power is a symptom of institutional indifference to renewables or the indifferent quality of so many project applications.

Altogether, applicants had sought NOK 439 million. The NOK 77 million (EUR 93 million) awarded to date works out at about NOK 2.2 million per project, representing about a fifth of the total cost of an average project, NVE says. The Norwegian Society for Conservation of Nature, Norges Naturvernforbund, has called for investment in renewables of NOK 1.2 billion over five years.

Meanwhile, Norway's power consumption has increased by an average of 1.4% a year in the last decade. When a dry spell hit the hydro-rich country in 1996, it was forced to abandon years of self sufficiency and import electricity from Denmark. Last year alone, consumption increased 4%. Earlier this year, a poll of Norwegians by the Gallup Institute led to encouraging results: 33% of respondents said the power sector should cover the increasing demand for electricity with wind energy, according to Vindmølleindustrien, the Danish wind industry association. They were asked to choose between wind, natural gas, hydro and district heating. Currently, Norway's operating wind capacity is only 13 MW.

New wind goal

Perhaps the government is listening. Its draft budget for 2000, announced shortly after release of the NVE figures, links a series of deterrent taxes on electricity and fuel oil to an impressive 43% boost in funding for a spectrum of green programs, including renewable energy production and R&D, from NOK 248 million to NOK 355 million. Of this total, the amount earmarked for investment in a handful of "priorities," starting with wind power, shows an 82% rise over this year's budget.

In addition, the government has set a target for wind energy to produce 3 TWh of electricity a year by 2010 -- 2.5% of the country's total energy consumption, equal to the power produced by about 600 1.5 MW turbines. "If the government is going to reach this goal, we are going to have to concentrate on big wind farms," says Iver Nordseth, mayor of Smøla, an island of considerable wind potential which the state utility has designs on for a 150 MW wind farm (page 12). Nordseth is one of the prime movers and shakers in a national union of wind power municipalities, Landssammenslutningen av Vindkraftkommuner, which was formed earlier this year. "We see a need for more flexible grant or subsidy arrangements," he said in an interview with local newspaper Addresseavisen, but added that "things are beginning to fall into place," and the budget proposals for new electricity taxes would possibly mean "a competitive spin for wind power."

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