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Wind Power in Sámi areas – what is it all about?

Fragmentation implies that no part of the fragmented area is […]

Forfatter:

Motvind Norge

Publisert:

4. mars 2023

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Fragmentation implies that no part of the fragmented area is intact. Storheia wind power plant summer 2022. Photo: Per Inge Oestmoen

There has long been a widespread assumption that wind power has to be «green» and environmentally friendly energy. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.


Written by Per Inge Oestmoen, Board Member, Oslo Sámi Association


The political turmoil and the demonstrations during February and March 2023 in Norway – background

In the Fosen area in Norway, there have been built seven large wind power plants. In February 2023, both the whole Norwegian population and large parts of the world became aware of the political struggle surrounding two of them in particular, namely the Roan and Storheia plants. The wind power industry were granted the license to build them back in 2010. They were completed in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Significantly, these industry plants are located in the Fosen grazing district, where Sámi reindeer herders have had their traditional areas for reindeer husbandry.

The Sámi reindeer herders contested the licenses and brought the issue to court. After a lenghty series of court cases the Supreme Court of Norway on October 11,2021 finally ruled that the construction of the wind power industry in these Sámi reindeer grazing areas constitutes a violation of Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The grand chamber of the Supreme Court unanimously ruled the licence and expropriation decisions invalid. The decision was based on the realistic assumption that that the winter pastures at Roan and Storheia Roan are to be considered lost.

After a lenghty series of court cases the Supreme Court of Norway on October 11,2021 finally ruled that the construction of the wind power industry in these Sámi reindeer grazing areas constitutes a violation of Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The Norwegian government, however, did not want to accept the only sensible consequence of the invalidity of the licenses granted to the development of wind power in the area: Total removal of not only the wind turbines but also a complete restoration of the landscape by means of a meticulous new construction – or in this case rather deconstruction – work to repair the landscape to the fullest extent possible. Presumably, there were several reasons for this reluctance:

– A removal of the wind power plants in the area would create a precedent which will basically make it impossible to construct any more wind power plants in Sámi areas, and the leading Norwegian politicians in the 2020’s were intent on building a large number of land-based wind power plants.

– A removal of the Roan and Storheia plants would also signal an implicit admission that the establishment of wind power industry in natural areas is indeed a destructive undertaking, which is exactly what the opponents of wind power have pointed out long ago.

– In the years between 2010 and 2022, there was an upsurge in corporate investments in wind energy in Norway, leading to a large number of licenses for multi-billion-dollar wind power projects. This phenomenon was facilitated by the dissemination of the wind power focused narrative whose proponents were found in, in addition to the wind industry and its lobbyists, certain political parties and organizations claiming to be «environmentalists», but which in reality played the game of corporate interests, albeit more often than not unwittingly. The alluring but deceptive narrative propagated by the wind power supporters was and still is that this is «renewable, clean energy which is necessary in the transition from fossil energy to carbon-neutral energy sources which does not emit greenhouse gases.» Thus, a considerable economic activity around wind power commenced in Norway during those years, and gained momentum even if quite a few municipalities have subsequently found that the high income and large number of workplaces failed to materialize.

What has certainly materialized, is a large-scale fragmenting destruction of invaluable natural environments and ecosystems. This latter reality has, however, generally been overlooked and even denied by both the involved corporate interests and government representatives and agencies who have been very reluctant to accept the stark reality. Because the realities can be denied only up to a certain point, there is increasing opposition to the wind power schemes not only from indigenous communities, but from the majority population as well.

Here is another reason behind the Norwegian government’s unwillingness to accept the ruling of the country’s own Supreme Court: It would signal to international investors that renewable energy – that is wind power – investments in Norway might be an unpredictable proposition and even a dead end. Since many politicians in the Norwegian parliament for a number of reasons have been intent on letting renewable energy investors have their way, they did not want to accept the demands from their own people if it meant giving the message that wind investments in Norway might well be abortive.

– A final stoppage of the Roan and Storheia wind power plants, with a complete demolition of all the 151 wind turbines as well as removal of all parts of the infrastructure, would lead to the wind industry’s suing the Norwegian state with a claim to many billions of NOK in reparations.

It is extremely important to realize, and to emphasize whenever wind power is publicly debated, that a wind power plant which is built in a natural environment will fragment and degrade the whole area, and that the green patches between the various elements of the infrastructure must be counted as part of the impacted area since a fragmented area is no longer intact. Storheia wind power plant summer 2022. Photo: Per Inge Oestmoen

The situation

At the time of this writing in 2023 a large proportion of the Norwegian population was still unaware of the true severity and extent of the destruction of land-based wind power plants in natural environments. Many people still believed that what it it is all about is merely some «windmills» (they are not at all «mills») and access roads, with little knowledge of the extensive and serious fragmentation caused by the whole infrastructure.

In addition, there has long been a widespread assumption that because wind power does not emit greenhouse gases, it has to be «green» and environmentally friendly energy. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality

The disinformation regarding the land use of wind power is incredible. The discrepancy between the estimates made by the wind industry and its organizations and the reality is genuinely mind-boggling.

The most common description is entailed in the concept of «Direct Land Use.» This is found by measuring the footprint of the turbines and their foundation of armored concrete, the power substation and the access roads. With that standard, the wind power industry and their associates have long had considerable success with convincing the «common man/ woman» and politicians alike of the alleged environmentally benign nature of wind power. 

So, what is wrong with that concept of «Direct Land Use»?

A wind power plant contains a very extensive infrastructure consisting of access roads which are often blasted out in the terrain, thereby creating sharp and even dangerous precipices along the road. These access roads crisscross the whole area because they have to – because all the wind turbines first have to be erected and then later maintained from time to time. As a result of both these roads crisscrossing the whole area and also their containing a lot of blasted out-areas, the access roads within a wind power plant have a far greater impact than a simple single road. It merits mention that each of the seven plants on the Fosen peninsula contain 60 kilometres of such access roads in average.

In addition each and every turbine needs a sizable crane parking lot for the machines, for the same purposes. Each of these is blown and dug out, and nothing can grow there, and they can measure up to 3/4 of a soccer field – which is around 2500-2700 m2. On top of all this, there is a large power substation.

All these elements within the area of the wind power plant causes fragmentation of the whole area. Fragmentation implies that no part of the fragmented area is intact, and what has happened is ecosystem degradation – because a fragmented area has ceased to be intact. The whole spatial extent of the wind power plant is degraded, and therefore the wind industry’s and their supporters’ claims that the green and fragmented patches between the access roads, turbines, crane parking lots is still intact nature are monstrously wrong.

The whole spatial extent of the wind power plant is degraded, and therefore the wind industry’s and their supporters’ claims that the green and fragmented patches between the access roads, turbines, crane parking lots is still intact nature are monstrously wrong.

The whole spatial extent of the wind power plant is degraded, and therefore the wind industry’s and their supporters’ claim that the green and fragmented patches between the access roads, turbines, crane parking lots is still intact nature are monstrously wrong. Storheia wind plant summer 2022. Photo: Per Inge Oestmoen

A wind power plant contains a very extensive infrastructure consisting of access roads which are often blasted out in the terrain, thereby creating sharp and even dangerous precipices along the road. Storheia wind plant summer 2022. Photo: Per Inge Oestmoen

It is extremely important to realize, and to emphasize whenever wind power is publicly debated, that a wind power plant which is built in a natural environment will fragment and degrade the whole area, and that the green patches between the various elements of the infrastructure must be counted as part of the impacted area since a fragmented area is no longer intact.

The turbines that are visible from a distance are but a small part of the whole infrastructure. There is nothing «green» with wind power. Also, the energy produced is wind-dependent and highly unreliable. For this reason, wind power is both technically and with respect to its detrimental environmental impact a serious blind alley.

The breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was unanimously ruled as such. However, there has been little focus on the destruction of land that constitutes the breach. This situation needs to be remedied, so that people in Norway as well as people abroad become aware of how destructive wind power plants demonstrably are. It is far from being about «visual impressions». Land and ecosystems are being fragmented and degraded to a very high degree. That necessitates restoration and even rewilding programs.

The pictures that accompany this article are taken in the Storheia wind power plant. Here, there are 80 wind turbines and an extremely damaging infrastructure. Have a close look at these pictures. Is wind power green energy? Wind power generates no greenhouse gases, but does that imply that wind power is «green» and environmentally friendly? Photo: Per Inge Oestmoen

Restoration efforts

What is to be done in order to restore a wind power plant area to its natural state?

– Any and all of the wind turbines must first be demounted and removed together with its foundations of armored concrete.

– Then; the access roads interlinking the turbines must all be harrowed up and the sharp precipices and damages inflicted on the ground must be blasted up and then harrowed down so that the landscape can be restored to the fullest possible extent.

The wind power’s destruction of natural environments is unacceptable.

The wind power’s destruction of traditional Sámi areas and reindeer grazing lands is unacceptable.

To remedy the situation, the abovementioned measures must be taken without fail.

The pictures that accompany this article are taken in the Storheia wind power plant. Here, there are 80 wind turbines and an extremely damaging infrastructure. Have a close look at these pictures. Is wind power green energy? Wind power generates no greenhouse gases, but does that imply that wind power is «green» and environmentally friendly?

The wind power’s destruction of traditional Sámi areas and reindeer grazing lands is unacceptable. Graphic design: Siri Fjeseth