Two interesting though not quite definitive (see update at bottom) news reports came across my desk in the past couple of weeks, both of which signal a potentially dramatic shift away from developing new land-based wind farms in Europe. The Energy Minister of the new UK coalition government as well as the CEO of the Danish government-owned energy company both made public statements suggesting that they will be looking away from further development of wind farms on land, in response to increasing public resistance.
In the UK, the Conservative Party reflected the concerns of their largely rural constituency and had expressed far more doubts about large-scale onshore wind farms than had the Labour Party. While Labour’s Energy secretary Ed Miliband said opposing wind farms is “socially unacceptable”, adding society should view people who blocked planning applications in the same light as drivers who refused to wear a seatbelt, the new Energy Minister Lord Marland said in early August that the “future for this country” in terms of wind energy lies in offshore schemes rather than land-band developments that have sparked anger in Westcountry rural and coastal communities. While about 70% of the wind farm project approved by the former government are under construction, Marland stressed that “It is our determination that there should be no dramatic increase in this (wind farms approved by Labour) and that the emphasis should be offshore, where the supply of wind is much more reliable. There are of course constraints in the environment… and fishing and shipping communities need to be listened to, but offshore is the future for this country.” Perhaps most strikingly, the new coalition government plans to abandon a controversial set of local and regional renewable energy targets, which had been driving much of the new wind farm permitting. For more, see this article.
And in early September, a short online article from Denmark quoted Anders Eldrup, the CEO of Dong Energy, as saying, “It is very difficult to get the public’s acceptance if the turbines are built close to residential buildings, and therefore we are now looking at maritime options.” According to this article, which appeared on the Copenhagen Post website, it had been Dong and the government’s plan that 500 large turbines be built on land over the coming 10 years, as part of a large-scale national energy plan. This plan has hit a serious stumbling block, though, due to many protests, and the firm has now given up building any more wind farms on land. I have been unable to find any other references to this shift in the online media (UPDATE, 9/12: see this fairly long article in the Telegraph, repeating the quote in more definitive terms, and highlighting Danish anti-wind sentiment) and likewise no public mention of it on Dong’s website; apparently some in the Danish Parliament were unhappy with the idea, so it remains to be seen whether this reflects the CEO’s opinion or substantial new policy. In recent months, a rising tide of protests has appeared in Scandinavia, long at the forefront of wind energy development; this article looks at some of the new resistance.
UPDATE 10/27/10: Dong says the original press coverage was “grossly misinterpreted”: This much more detailed article notes that Dong has built no new onshore windfarms in Denmark for 5 years, largely due to the fact that the country already has the highest number of wind turbines per capita in the Europe, so is not now “exiting” online development. The article also downplays the extent of public opposition, and stresses that looking offshore just makes more sense in terms of generating capacity. Dong continues to install land-based turbines in other Scandinavian countries, and is actively pursuing three repowering projects in Denmark (repowering is an upgrade in which aging smaller turbines already in place are replaced by new, larger models, thus generating more power from existing windfarms).