Denmark commissions offshore wind farms as NIMBY grows onshore

Source: Special to E&E • Posted: Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Danes may be proud of their country’s leadership in wind energy, but increasingly they don’t want any turbines near their houses. Which makes it more difficult for the government to reach its goal to get 50 percent of its electricity from wind by 2020, up from 28 percent last year.

So Denmark, home to the world’s top two wind turbine manufacturers, has invited bidders to build 500 megawatts of offshore wind parks and generate enough electricity to power half a million homes.

The turbines will help replace half the country’s coal power generation over the next eight years and will be located far enough at sea to avoid any not-in-my-backyard, or NIMBY, angst, Danish Energy Minister Martin Lidegaard said.

“I’m very happy with the big support we received in the local communities that were chosen and that the local municipalities and citizens will have the possibility to become co-owners of the new offshore turbines,” he said.

The government considered eight areas for the offshore parks but in the end chose only the six where local support was judged to be high enough. The areas of Bornholm, Smålandsfarvandet, Sejerø Bugt, Sæby, Vesterhav Syd and Vesterhav Nord will accept bids for 450 MW of commercial production and 50 MW of experimental turbines. The latter will receive a fixed price of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour

Offshore turbines can cost two to three times as much as onshore machines due to the difficulties of operating at sea and the additional requirements of sturdy foundations, underwater cables and substations, and difficult maintenance conditions.

It’s not clear yet who will use the opportunity to test offshore turbines here, but both Vestas, the largest producer, and Siemens, whose wind unit is based in Denmark, are developing mammoth offshore machines. The Siemens 6 MW turbine is already in testing, while Vestas has announced it will accelerate development of an even bigger 8 MW machine after DONG Energy, the world’s largest operator of offshore wind farms, agreed to cooperate earlier in the research and development phase than planned.

‘Beautiful’ goes almost out of sight

Danes used to refer to wind turbines with words like “gracious” and “beautiful.” But as Denmark’s installed wind capacity grew to 3.9 gigawatts by 2011 and the machines got bigger, some Danes started looking at the turbines in a different light.

Bishop Kjeld Holm from Aarhus, the second biggest city in Denmark, said last month in an interview with Danish newspaper BT that no onshore wind turbines should be positioned too close to churches. “It’s not that we’re against wind turbines in general, but churches are totally dwarfed by them,” he said, adding that turbines should be placed at least 1.5 kilometers away from churches.

That sounds reasonable, said Asbjorn Bjerre, spokesman for Denmark’s wind farm operators’ association. “However, sometimes they protest even when a turbine is erected 4 kilometers from a church,” he said. “Churches have been here for 800 years. A wind turbine will be up for 20 or 30 years, and then maybe something else will take its place.”

By supporting its wind industry from early on, Denmark became the headquarters for some of the world’s top manufacturers in the field: Vestas, Siemens and LM Wind Power. But it’s not cheap to be a pioneer in renewable energy. Green taxes mean Danish consumers pay the world’s highest residential electricity rates, while businesses have been forced to spend money to make their operations more energy efficient in an effort to shrink their power bills.

Denmark has a lot of experience with offshore wind parks. As airplanes land at Copenhagen’s international airport, they glide over one of the country’s first offshore wind farms, Middelgrunden, which has been producing power just off the capital’s coast since 2001.

Even though Denmark has ambitious goals to be fossil-fuel-free by 2050, the effect of the country’s reduction in carbon emissions on a global scale will be negligible. China’s yearly increase in CO2 emissions alone is several times higher than Denmark’s total emissions, so the Nordic country’s efforts have only a symbolic effect when seen in a global perspective.

Nevertheless, the Danish government presses on with wind, looking for ways around potential NIMBY controversies. It commissioned a study on the visibility of offshore turbines at different distances from the coast.

The architecture firm that completed the study concluded that offshore turbines will be perceived as quite obvious in a range of 2 kilometers to 4 kilometers from the coast, and they will be seen as less of a marked presence at 6 kilometers away. From 8 kilometers to 13 kilometers from the coast, the turbines will remain visible but will be dwarfed by the landscape and will generally not be considered intruding.

Harmony with the visual context?

The study recommended that small groups of offshore wind turbines at coast locations should be arranged in simple geometric patterns, depending on the surrounding landscape, so as to obtain the best harmony with the visual context in the area. An array of turbines in a single row was the best choice, while a rectangular arrangement was the worst and appeared messy. A small park of three to 10 turbines should be arranged in a single line, while at larger parks turbines should be arranged in several rows to minimize the total area they occupy.

The worst areas to erect offshore turbines, from an aesthetic point of view, are straits and sounds, the architects said. The exceptions to this rule are bridges, harbors or other industrial areas, with which turbines could achieve visual harmony, they said.

Taking this into account, the 500 MW of new offshore turbines will be placed at least 4 kilometers from the coast, the Energy Ministry said. Local citizens and companies will be encouraged to buy shares in the projects and will be able to own stakes of up to 20 percent. The thinking is that local ownership will improve the chances that citizens will tolerate the sight of the turbines.

Onshore wind has also been facing opposition from local citizens in various parts of the United Kingdom, which has led to long delays in permitting of projects. This frustrated the chief executive of Vestas, Ditlev Engel, who lashed out at the “political vilification” of renewable power in a comment to the Guardian newspaper.

“There is a common misunderstanding that it is possible to be vehemently anti-onshore wind while promoting the development of offshore wind,” Engel said. “That is not the case. There is one wind industry in the U.K., with largely the same developers, financiers and manufacturers operating across both the offshore and onshore environment. Offshore investors witnessing the attacks on the onshore sector are left wondering if they might be next. Political consensus needs to give confidence across the whole wind sector.”

One of the opponents of wind power in the United Kingdom is Donald Trump, who is trying to prevent an experimental offshore wind farm from being erected within sight of his golf resort in Aberdeenshire in Scotland.