Wind farm in Northern Norway brings pride and profit

This small, 1,300-resident municipality in Northern Norway’s Finnmark County, whose name has become known in environmental circles thanks to its Kjøllefjord wind power plant, was a subject of Russian and international interest last month as participants in Bellona’s Northwest Russia Renewable Energy Forum visited the facility. 

The participants were able to see first hand how the development of Kjøllefjord played a role in the development of its small host town.

The visit was part of a the week-long Northwest Russia Renewable Energy Forum held by Bellona last month to spark dialogue with 30 Russian authorities on the prospects of Norway and Russia harnessing their potential for wind energy.

According to Lebesby’s director of development, Hege Johansen, the town, which occupies some 3,000 sparely populated square kilometres, was more a fishing village with goals for other industries until the wind farm was built.

And, despite the fact that the area never found itself in a tight spot for energy, it nonetheless decided in 2008, thanks to the Stat Kraft company, to build a wind farm with 17 wind turbines producing 2.3 Megawatts a piece with an annual output of 150 gigawatts of electricity. The total cost of the project was some 400 million Norwegian kroner (€50 million), and construction took slightly over a year.

“Representatives of the local administration applied a lot of effort to build the wind park,” said Johansen. “It was a local initiative that met with success.”

Johansen added that the wind power project would have been impossible without the support of the community, because companies dealing with wind energy will not build in communities were there is public opposition to the project.

The majority of Lebesby’s population are for the wind park. According to a poll, only three percent of the town’s residents were against the park, both before and after its construction.

“Residents are proud of this wind farm. It is not only profitable, but it opens the road toward future sustainable development,” said Johansen.

The wind farm’s influence on the town’s development

According to Johansen, the wind farm had a large influence on Lebesby’s development even before its construction: before construction began, a new port and road were built. Both had been planned out a few years prior, but were only possible with financing from Stat Kraft because they were necessary for the development of the wind power project.

Dozens of local companies were contracted for construction, bringing almost €5 million in contracts. At present, the municipality annually received €230,000 in property tax from the wind farm – which is a significant sum for such a sparsely populated area.

“Our town has appeared on the map and has become well known among interested companies thanks to this wind farm,” said Johansen.

“I very much liked the wind farm that we saw. I saw the realization of my dreams,” said Valery Minin, deputy director of the Centre for Physical and Technological Energy Problems of the Kola Peninsula branch of the Russian Academy of Science, and one of the 30 Russian visitors to the site.

Hurdles to wind power in Northern Norway

The construction of the Kjøllefjord wind farm has drawn the attention of other companies interested in wind energy projects in the area. Three other wind power projects are currently under discussion, but their development has met with several problems.

The main hurdle is the limited capacity of power lines within Finnmark County itself. County officials are currently developing plans for new power lines.

According to Johansen, if the power line issue is solved, then the three other wind park projects will be implemented.

The second difficulty is related to the concerns of the indigenous Laplanders whose tradition of reindeer herding, which is protected by the government, could be threatened by the land requirments for the wind parks. Any project has to agree with the wishes of the local community.

The conflict of interests has attracted research into the impact of wind farms on deer populations. According to data, confirmed by reindeer herders, there has been no negative impact on deer populations. The reindeer are not afraid to graze near wind turbines and are not disturbed by the noise.

“We are proud to be a municipality developing wind engery,” said Johansen. “In the future we will develop a demand for clean renewable enegy and we are already a part of that process, and will continue to develop it.”

According to Vladimir Kiselyov, General Director of the Russian wind power company OAO Vetroenergo, Northern Norway is not the world’s only example of the coexistence of wind farms and animal herding. For example, in Australia, noted for its expansive grasslands and sheep farming, windmills blend well with the pastures for thousands sheep.

Environmental aspects of wind farm construction

According to Yevid Peredeshin, a representative of Norkonsult, the development of the Kjøllefjord wind farm involved some very important environmental issues. Before the choice of the area and the company, a comprehensive analysis of the legal basis, norms, rules and demands was conducted.

The main task was to minimize the impact on the topography, vegetation and soil during construction. The wind power project demanded the construction of 10 kilometres of access roads, several transformer stations and the laying of several kilometres of cable.

“This is extremely vulnerable territory with sparse vegetation – if you destroy it, it would take hundreds of years to restore,” said Peredeshin. “I can say with certainty to bring the slightest bit of harm to the environment would be impossible.”

After construction on a handful of sections, new plants were plants for re-cultivation. During construction it was necessary to remove surface soil, which was then replaced. Additionally, rock and boulders that had to be removed were put back exactly as they were prior to construction.

“We consider that the contractors took this seriously, possibly because if they hadn’t, they would have faced sanctions and fines,” said Peredeshin.

“We saw a wind park built with the observance of all demands. It harmoniously inserted not only into the existing topography, but into the existing energy system,” said Yury Nazarkin, director of the working group for the “Vertoenergetika” (wind energy) project being carried out by the Russian KRES-Alyans group. 

Anna Kireeva, Translated by Charles Digges,