Artist Lars Jonsson and filmmaker Jan Troell write about wind power: Local opinion fighting to save their nearby natural landscape is met with total indifference by government authorities.
The ongoing expansion of wind power is an intrusion into the countryside, with a extent and effect comparable with the 1900s expansion of hydro power in the rivers in north Sweden. Wind turbines have a significant visual impact on landscape and the anxiety that they create must be taken seriously. There has been no serious research into how they affect people. It can almost be considered a violation of human rights when local opinions are met with indifference by government authorities. A further expansion demands great consideration be given to the localization and to nature conservation and human health and the environment, write Lars Jonsson and Jan Troell.
To view and experience a landscape, we must allow our gaze to land at a point, the so-called vanishing point, that allows our brain to scan the distance and see the perspective, that is, to get oriented in space. In open countryside, it is often a distant point of the crest of a hill, or a bay or grove in the distance.
A wind turbine with rotating blades always attracts our attention and we can not establish this vanishing point. In other words, we cannot view the landscape's visual values. The landscape loses its value as landscape. This is a biological function of our brain. We can experiment to look out over a landscape and never let the eye rest or fix on a particular point. But this quickly causes considerable stress which forces us to shut out the view.
The ongoing expansion of wind power is an infringement of the Swedish countryside, with its scope and its impact on conservation values comparable with the 1900s expansion of hydro power in the rivers of the far north. Wind turbines have a significant visual impact on landscape and almost invariably meets local opposition. The anxiety that wind power causes in many people and its long-term impact on health and welfare must be taken seriously.
Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren has unfortunately chosen to meet this growing concern with the language of force. Statements such as "local temporary opinions should not be allowed to decide the future of wind power expansion" or that "municipalities are putting a spoke in the wheel" shows lack of respect, both for the individual and current rights of veto by municipalities in wind power issues.
The Swedish right of public access has meant that many people participate actively in our common natural and landscape resources. The "local opinion" whom Carlgren seem to look down upon are the people who chose to live in the countryside for the sake of landscapes and nature. For most, the landscape is the very essence of what is summarized in the concept of nature or environmental conservation; landscape as a whole is the place where nature meets us, the place where we can connect with and develop our love of natural surroundings..
Often it is argued that Sweden covers a large area and with few people, and thus it must be possible to find locations for turbines that do not create conflicts. Historic farm ownership in southern and central Sweden has created many smaller farms and villages without much undeveloped landscape, while in Germany and England the countryside remains dominated by large private land area, with buildings concentrated to communities.
Counties such as Västergötland, Halland, Öland and Gotland [located in south coastal and southwestern Sweden, Öland and Gotland are islands -ed. note] are often areas where wind power does infringe on living environments. A further expansion should be preceded by a much wider and national discussion about the areas that are appropriate and which ones should be saved entirely. The last decade has been marked by a kind of free-for-all, in which the municipalities are caught between powerful economic interests and individual citizens' defense of their homeland.
Vindval [Wind Choice - ed. note] is the state's "research program to determine how wind affects people, nature and environment" but is governed entirely by political directives to facilitate wind power. Any serious research on wind power's impact on human health and the environment does not exist at all.
The project "Wind power in the open countryside, forests, mountains and sea - local conditions of acceptance", which runs between 2010 and 2012, for example, "shall identify opportunities and strategies that create acceptance among the local populations for wind power projects". Glossy brochures, illustrated with photographs of women and children, make claims such as "wind power establishment's negative effects on the environment has so far proved to be small and few compared with the effects of other activities". Vindval can hardly be regarded as a research program but rather a political tool for paving the way for wind power. This is basically undemocratic and in conflict with the European Landscape Convention, which Sweden has signed but not yet ratified.
The National Heritage Board has considered how the European Landscape Convention of 2001 can be implemented in Swedish law. In their report, the Board expressed that "the Convention requires that the everyday landscape and individuals' experiences should be considered and upgraded and that greater consideration be given to experiencing the landscape. In order to achieve the intentions of the ELC. actively applied laws and rules of consideration are needed in order to prevent unacceptable changes in the landscape ". All this conflicts with current policy on wind power.
Last year's decision that the establishment of over seven wind turbine plants only needs to be considered according to the Environmental Code (the possibility to consider it according to the Planning and Building Act was removed). This meant transferring rights from the individual and the community to favor the wind power industry. The vast experience and knowledge that exists in many municipalities to evaluate construction projects from a landscape architectural and human social angle was thus lost. This was why the National Housing Authority opposed the proposal.
Consideration of wind power according to the Environmental Code is often an empty gesture when 1) the environmental impact assessment is contracted out by the wind energy stakeholders and is carried out by willing consultants, 2) there is lack of basic research in the field and 3) all agencies and administrations have been given explicit directives to make it easier for wind power. Currently, there is no broad protection for landscape as a visual environment in the Environmental Code. To fully enter the landscape spirit of the European Landscape Convention into Swedish law would change that, but the government delays, for whatever reason?
If wind power is expanded at the pace and to the extent that the government specifies, this requires that very close attention be paid to localization and consideration to nature conservation and human health and the environment. It is a judicial scandal and can almost be considered a violation of human rights when local opinion, which is fighting only for its right to preserve the value of nearby landscape, is met with total indifference from government authorities. Those who want to preserve the landscape as a shared natural resource should raise their voices.
• Sweden's installed capacity of wind turbines has increased dramatically in recent years. At the end of 2009/10 it stood at 1,448 MW.
• Electricity production from wind for 2009 was 2.5 TWh, an increase of 26 percent from the year before. Wind power's share of total net production of electricity in 2009 was about 1.9 percent. Hydroelectric power in 2009 accounted for 48.8 per cent and nuclear power accounted for 37.4 percent. By 2020, wind power - under current plans - will produce 30 TWh of electricity.
Source: Swedish Energy Agency
Special thanks to Mr. Robert Skole for providing Windaction.org with the above translation from Swedish to English.