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Norway

Norway

Blistering offensive from bird group -- RSPB serious opposition

Norway's proposed wind development on Smøla, an island to the north of the port city of Kristiansand and one of Europe's largest continuous coastal lowland habitats, will devastate the world's most important site for one of Europe's rarest birds of prey, Europe's largest wildlife conservation group has warned.

In a blistering statement, the UK based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) urges the Norwegian government "to reverse the decision to build a controversial wind farm development which will destroy an important population of the globally threatened white tailed eagle," also known as the sea eagle. Smøla is home to 60 breeding pairs of sea eagle -- 45% of the European population, the world's highest concentration -- and other important species.

The RSPB's opposition to the 72 turbine project, probably Norway's most ambitious to date, is an example of the green paradox faced when an environmentally friendly initiative in the form of a clean power plant appears to be possible only at the expense of another environmental good. The RSPB says it "actively supports the development of renewable sources of energy, such as wind farms, provided a proper environmental impact assessment is carried out in each case, taking into consideration all the available scientific information."

Norwegian conservationists are also concerned. "Step one of the development alone [20 turbines] will destroy 14-16 sea eagle pairs," Morten Ree of the national ornithological society (NOF) told Aftenposten newspaper. "Another seven or eight pairs will be affected by roads and power transmission." The issue is reportedly to be taken up at international level by the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention at its next meeting in November.

Government support

Environmental objections have also been voiced over several other Norwegian projects. At Hitra in the west coast county of Sør-Trøndelag, the Norwegian environment ministry has confirmed government approval of a 50 turbine, 50 MW development, siding with the local authority against county officials who had opposed the project on conservation and aesthetic grounds. In a statement explaining its decision, the ministry writes: "It is extremely important to get moving on... projects that can help in the exploitation of new renewable energy sources.

"During the current establishment phase of wind power development in Norway, it would be appropriate to block municipally approved plans for wind power development only in very special cases... [such as] those in which the project would lead to a direct loss of biological diversity, or damage or destroy cultural artefacts, habitats or landscapes of obvious national value."

Sør-Trøndelag county had argued that the turbines and associated power lines will adversely affect an area of natural beauty and will endanger local populations of ground-nesting birds and such threatened or vulnerable species as eagle owl, black-throated diver and sea eagle.

Yet a third conflict, involving state owned national power producer Statkraft's NOK 500 million wind plant proposal for Stad in the heart of the scenic fjord country, echoes similar tensions between competing environmental goals -- and competing authorities. Earlier this year, Stad was the subject of a bitter argument among environmental non-government organisations over the relative greenness of wind power on the one hand and unspoilt landscape on the other.

Cultural landscape

Part of the row focused on the aesthetic impact of 70 metre high turbines on a "cultural landscape" in Selje municipality, site of a ruined 12th-century monastery. The latest split, according to local press reports, is between Sogn og Fjordane county officials (against) and local authority officials and politicians (for), with the latter voting to disregard the objections.

Several government agencies with conservation mandates have opposed various aspects of proposed wind development throughout the country, being overruled in most cases at ministerial level. Following parliamentary elections on September 10, however, in which the governing Labour Party did badly, there is some possibility that a new coalition government might take a different approach to wind power in general and the conservationists' objections in particular.

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