Wind farm versus living space: Construction project threatens indigenous culture

The construction of wind farms in Norway is booming. And German investors are behind many projects. Sami interests are ignored.

STOCKHOLM | Every year in June, the Norwegian Energy Regulatory Authority NVE publishes information about domestic electricity production and electricity consumption from the previous year. At first glance, these are extremely strange numbers.

In Norway, 98 percent of the electricity was produced from renewable sources - mostly hydropower. On the consumption side, renewables in Norway only stood at 9 percent, electricity from fossil sources was 58 percent and nuclear power represented 33 percent. How is this possible in a country without a single nuclear power plant and with just a handful of small thermal power plants?

In fact, almost all of the electricity in Norway is exchanged for electricity from fossil sources and nuclear power. Under the EU system of guarantees of origin (EU Directive 2009 / 28EC), the origin of the energy can be separated from the actual product.

In Germany, for example, the system means that lignite or nuclear power can be labeled as green electricity if the electricity trader also purchases proof of origin for the corresponding amount of renewable electricity from a hydropower or wind power producer in Norway.

Such an exchange does nothing for the energy transition and climate protection in their own country, which consumers may want to promote with their choice of green electricity. But it is a profitable business for producers in Norway, who sell the label at the highest bid, and the electricity trader, who can then market it at the more expensive green electricity rate. The proof of origin bonus, which is also sold in addition to selling the electricity, is the reason why German energy market players are increasingly investing in energy production in the Nordic countries.

Exixtenz threatening project

Scandinavia is now “our most important market,” Ingmar Helmke, investment director at Aquila Capital, said in a recent interview. The company, which claims to be an "alternative investment manager" offers "innovative, forward-looking & sustainable investment opportunities."  In January, Aquila Capital took over all shares in a northern Norwegian wind power project. Seventy-two wind turbines are to be built on the Øyfjellet. With an installed based of 400 MW it is currently the largest such plant in the country.

Ole-Henrik Kappfjell fears for his livelihood due to this project. The Øyfjellet is one of the central pasture areas that his reindeer need. It is a 600 to 800 meter high mountain area, largely untouched by man that is located roughly 900 kilometers north of Oslo in the Nordland region.

Sixty-four kilometers of access roads and connecting roads are currently being built there for the nearly 50 square kilometer wind farm of the German investor. The wind turbines are expected to deliver electricity beginning autumn 2021. It is located where large herds of reindeer from Kappfjell and other reindeer herds in this district traditionally switch from their summer pastures in the mountains to winter pastures in the lowlands and vice versa.

Because of the importance of the Øyfjellet for the reindeer industry, this location for a large wind turbine project was rejected by the regional government of Nordland from the start. Local representatives of the nature conservation association “Naturvernforbundet” spoke of a “disaster for the 600 year old culture and economy”. Nature conservation organizations and representatives of the Sami tried to stop the project in court . But the judiciary followed the arguments of the government in Oslo: The general interest in the expansion of wind energy prevail.

The company Eolus, which is responsible for the construction, commented on the criticism in a statement published in the local newspaper that it had made various changes to the project in order to reduce the interference with the Naur. There is no reason why the wind farm and reindeer could not coexist.

Those who make such claims do not understand reindeer, say the Sami. On their annual migration between the pastures, many pregnant reindeer would give birth to their young. They need rest and should not be stressed and driven with their newborn calves. Such a wind farm is an extraordinary stress factor for them: both in its construction, which involves extensive interventions in nature, and in its ongoing operation.

Start of construction without agreement

Written in the concession provisions for the wind plant was that an agreement had to be made between its operators and the Sami. Consideration would be given to protecting the migration of reindeer between summer and winter grazing areas. Although this agreement does not yet exist, construction work on Øyfjellet was allowed to begin this spring before the reindeer crossed the area. The provisions called for a one-month break in construction; the client considered four days to be sufficient.

The Ministry of Energy justified the approval of the continuation of the construction work with the otherwise incurred costs: “If the builder is ready with the crew, machines and everything, it costs millions”, explained State Secretary Tony Christian Tiller: It is “in the public interest, this is so low as possible ". “A national scandal,” says Ellionor Marita Jåma, chairwoman of the “National Association of Norwegian Reindeer Seeds” (NRL): “The power of money is more important than animal welfare.”

The reindeer district, now affected by the Øyfjellet project, has already lost half of its pastures in the past four decades due to the expansion of roads, hydropower and power lines as well as mining activities. Now the next ones will disappear forever, complains Runar Myrnes Balto, chairman of the National Association of Norwegian Sami (NSR).

For reindeer seeds, wind power is neither green nor an energy turnaround, says Maria Fjellheim from the Center for Sami Studies at the University of Tromsø. It is just another industry that is laying destructively over the Sami cultural landscape. Sacrificing nature and biodiversity to the fight against global warming is not a solution. She asks: How can you justify that the Sami, with their natural habits, should pay the high costs of climate policy?

Aili Keskitalo, President of the Norwegian Seed Parliament, also criticizes what "green energy" is for the state and the economy for the Sami. The consumers who bought such green electricity and the investors who invest in the wind power in question should be aware of the consequences that the production of supposedly “green” electricity would actually have on site.

Translation into English using Google Translate


AUG 6 2020
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