Norway considers wind energy to fill power shortfall

Sep 08, 2002 02:00 AM

The isolated island community of Smola, off the north-western coast of Norway, can add one more industry to fishing and farming: Wind. The desolate island has become home to Norway's first wind farm, which was officially opened by King Harald V to much celebration by the 2,500 islanders.
Most turned out to watch him switch on the 20, 70-metre high turbines, which will generate 40 MW of electricity. The amount of electricity being generated may seem like a drop in the ocean, but Statkraft, the state-owned company that built it, hopes that it will become the model for similar projects stretching across Europe.

Plans to construct wind farms have drawn in from many quarters, not least locals who fear their landscape will be blighted. Bird-lovers argue that the huge rotating blades will be responsible for the deaths of thousands of birds, and that the noise will disturb local wildlife.
But 80 % of the islanders are in favour of the wind farm, according to polls. Busloads of villagers were ferried out to the wind farm site where the ceremony took place. People cheered and took photos when the blades on the turbines began to rotate and young children waved Norwegian flags: This was an event the people were proud of and there was not a murmur of protest.

Of course, the people of Smola are not entirely altruistic in their support of wind power. Statkraft paid the local council to use the land, and the company employed local people to help build the turbines and the roads that connect them. It even sponsors the local football team, who play on a gravel pitch nearby. Statkraft hopes that the Smola wind farm will serve as an example showing that wind power can work, and most importantly, that it does not have to ride roughshod over local opinion.
If the first development on the island is successful, the company plans to build another 35 turbines, bringing the total generating capacity up to 150 MW and making it the largest onshore wind farm in northwest Europe. There is no doubt that the industry is at a pioneering stage, much in the way that the civil nuclear power industry was in the 1950s.

Other projects for renewable energy being considered by the company include "salt power", where energy is generated from the reaction caused when salt water comes into contact with fresh water. The concept of "lunar energy" -- underwater wind turbines -- is even more experimental. Wind power remains untried on a large scale. For the Smola farm to reach its full generating capacity, the wind speed has to blow at between 5 and 25 metres per second.
The average wind speed on the island is 8 mm per second, according to the company's "windmapping", so the directors of Statkraft are confident that the turbines will not lie idle often. That did not stop the local press officer joking that she hoped there would be enough wind for the opening. Talking about the weather in Norway was a national obsession, she explained, but now it had even more significance.

Bard Mikkelsen, president and CEO of Statkraft, admitted that the project would not have been possible without the help of the government, which provided about 20 % of the EUR 44 mm (£ 27.5 mm) to build the turbines. They cost virtually nothing to run.
With the right government subsidies in place, and if the price of wholesale electricity increases, he hopes that Smola becomes the first of many wind farms in Norway, and Northern Europe, where the company hopes to expand. Norway, like the UK and most of Europe, is at a crossroads in its energy policy.
New technology such as wind power and the continued development of nuclear power and gas-fired power generation are competing to help provide the anticipated 1 % increase in its energy demand each year in the next 10 years. Even in Scandinavia, different countries are choosing different paths. Finland has just approved its fifth nuclear reactor in what is being called a "nuclear renaissance" while across the border, Sweden is committed to phasing out its nuclear facilities.

Norway currently generates 96 % of its energy from dams, making use of the fjords and rivers, which cover much of the country. But most sites suitable for hydroelectric power have already been used, and the government wants to generate about 3 % of all its energy needs from wind power by 2010.
In contrast, in the UK, the debate on wind power remains confused. The Ministry of Defence is opposed to wind farms because it claims they interfere with its radar. But this was not enough to stop planning permission being granted for the biggest offshore wind farm in the UK, generating 90 MW, to be built by National Wind Power, a subsidiary of the electricity company Npower. Whether such turbines are the solution to Europe's energy dilemma, as Bob Dylan might say, is blowin' in the wind, but a tiny Norwegian fishing community had its say.

Source: Sunday Business
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