Denmark’s Anti-Wind Problem

Lisa Linowes|October 17, 2017
DenmarkImpact on People

Local resistance to wind power development is intensifying worldwide and project developers are feeling the heat of angry communities saying ‘no’ to their spinning towers. As policy wonks try to understand the opposition, the wind industry is quick to tout public gaiety in Denmark over operating projects. But like every claim involving the wind industry, there's a darker story.

Denmark, the tiny European state much ballyhooed as the gold standard for wind power deployment, has big energy goals.

The Danish government set the target of sourcing half of its electricity from wind by 2020 and transitioning entirely off fossil fuel by 2050. In order to get there, Denmark needs to build a lot more wind. Last year, wind power represented 38 percent of Denmark’s total electricity consumed, down from 42 percent the year before. (Actual wind consumption by the Danish was likely below this percentage since much of Denmark’s wind power can be exported to neighboring control areas.)

But getting there won’t be easy. According to a 3-year, $3.16 million study (DKK 20 million) by the Danish Council for Strategic Research, Denmark has an ‘Anti-Wind’ problem.

Denmark’s Installed Wind

Denmark’s accumulated installed wind in the period from 2007 to 2016 grew by just 2.1 GW bringing the total wind capacity to 5.2 gigawatts (GW) including 1.27 GW offshore. In comparison, the United States installed 65.5 GW in that same period – a 31-fold increase – for total installed wind of 82.2 GW. Denmark decommissioned more turbines in eight of the last ten years than it installed. 

Public Resistance and the Wind2050 Report

To be fair, Denmark is a small country, with a land area that’s 1.25x the size of Maryland. Limited space (and a government fixated on meeting its aggressive energy goals) has triggered massive public opposition to turbine projects. See here, here and here.

Recognizing that wind power opposition could disrupt the deployment of more wind turbines, the Danish government funded Wind2050, an initiative tasked with understanding the growing resistance to wind energy in Denmark and how to increase community acceptance.  

Four briefs[1] were released this year, two in May and two in June. 

The following statements from ‘Policy Brief #4’ make clear that Danish citizens strongly object to wind power facilities in their communities. 

The massive resistance to wind turbines will not only have an impact on the political objective of 50% of Danish production coming from wind turbines by 2020, but in the long run, resistance can affect the direction Denmark takes in achieving its Green conversion. In order for this goal to be met, it may be necessary to undertake a different planning process. There is evidence that the planning process itself promotes the resistance of citizens by the way it is organized. 

The Brief goes on to state:

This investigation shows that there is great distrust in the municipalities. Citizens feel that the municipalities mainly think of the financial benefits and subsidies from the state, and that they [city officials] cooperate with wind project developers at the expense of local citizens. … In addition, the public process involves project builders at a very early stage and before they actually have project approval which gives rise to the concern that the decision on the wind project has already been made in advance and that citizens have no say even before the participation process has actually started. 

Policy Brief #5 discusses how Denmark’s transition to a more competitive market pricing scheme has resulted in projects becoming more investment intensive i.e. more turbines, more cost and more risk. This policy change effectively abolished village-owned wind projects while enriching mega-corporations like Vestas and Siemens. 

The Danish support system has changed from being based on giving investor/wind farms a fixed price per kilowatt-hour (kWh), the so-Called Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) fixed price system. During the 1990s, the FIT provided for a relatively lucrative investment for local wind farm land and other local residents (e.g. landowners / farmers). 

By 1999, market mechanisms were introduced whereby wind turbine revenues were settled at a market price plus a fixed surcharge. This meant that returns on investment were based on changing electricity prices, which introduced uncertainty that, in most cases, could only be handled by major, commercial project developers with a portfolio of projects.

The Brief adds:

In recent years, the development of land-based wind energy in Denmark has resulted in increased local resistance. Different policies specifically aimed at letting locals benefit economically from the new local wind farm, have not worked as intended. This indicates that a unilateral focus on financial compensation or other minor adjustments will often only serve as a short term solution.

As a consequence of the technological and economic changes in the framework conditions and the abolition of residence duty, which in the first years required that developers be resident locally (‘dwelling duty’), the project developer type and ownership has changed drastically. The windmill market in Denmark today is dominated by professional, commercial project developers, who often have no local presence where they develop projects. This process has obviously taken place in line with the changed energy policy since 2003 and deregulation of the electricity sector. 

The Wind2050 results indicate that the professionalization and commercialization of project development and deregulation of the wind market have meant that Danish citizens increasingly view wind power more negatively compared to the first years when it was more locally anchored and founded In an old Danish shareholding approach. 

These findings should not surprise anyone as they closely parallel the views of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. But Denmark’s politicians, like their brethren in the U.S. and elsewhere, have been so blinded by the idea of wind power and its claimed economic rewards that they refuse to acknowledge the obvious environmental and human impacts. 

Industry players continue to insist that by engaging communities early in the process and promising local economic benefit that opposition will quickly turn to support. The Wind2050 researchers found this is not the case, and we agree.  But we do suggest the CEO’s of NextEra, Avangrid (Iberdrola), EDP Renewables, Apex, GE, Vestas, Siemens etc. consider ‘dwelling duty.’ Perhaps then we can have a conversation. 


[1] The briefs are available in Danish only. Excerpts that appear in this essay were translated with the assistance of Google Translate.

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