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Reindeer herders a 'challenging area' for Swedish wind growth

FACE TO FACE | Swedish wind is booming – but has to find harmony with Sami populations to expand in the north, Charlotte Unger, head of industry association Svensk Vindenergi tells Bernd Radowitz

Data centres and heavy industries are now trying to take advantage of low onshore wind prices in the Nordics. Will this continue?

Yes, we have seen this trend during the last couple of years, and to my knowledge it will continue. It is a good match to have these data centres close to the delivery of cheap renewable energy.

And, of course, you also get job opportunities, which is very important, especially in the northern parts of Sweden.

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What other factors are making Swedish and Nordic onshore wind market so attractive?

First, it has to do with the political stability that we have. We have the long-term goal to reach 100% renewables in 2040. And then also the wind in Sweden and Norway is perfect for wind power. That, in combination with quite a lot of hydro power is the main reason why you see many wind projects here.

We believe that until 2040 you will have a combination of hydro and wind that will deliver up to 90% of the electricity needed.

Could conflicts of interest, for example with reindeer herders from the indigenous Sami population derail wind projects in the North?

That is a very important and challenging area. What we have seen in the past is that it is getting more and more difficult to get permits. One of the reasons is connected to the Sami population. But it also has to do with defence, and regulations covering birds and bats.

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When you talk about the Sami population, we have a dialogue, of course. Since they depend on nature with their reindeers, and of course a stable environment, trying to hinder climate change is of course very important also for the Sami people. I hope we could find solutions that are good for us, the Sami people, and regarding climate change.

Green certificates are only playing a minor role in the current boom of onshore wind. Could the certificate market again become more relevant once more nuclear capacity is idled?

No, I don’t think so. … [a regulation will be enacted] for the green certificate system to end. I think it has served its role very well and delivered lots of renewable electricity, not only in wind power, but also from [bioenergy]. And we are talking about onshore, since offshore never had the pleasure of getting something from the green certificates.

Do you think the second Löfven government will take action to accelerate the transition towards renewables ?

Of course, I hope so. First, you have the [energy] agreement from parliament, the agreement that was made between the same five parties [in 2016]. All the goals, etc. are of course not going to change. But I think a possibility now with the Löfven government, also with the different areas of collaboration with the Centre Party, could be very helpful for the transition towards renewables even more.

In general, do you think the Centre Party is more favourable to renewables than the Left Party?

No, I would highlight three parties that we have seen to be very pro-environment. They are the Centre Party, and the Miljöpartiet (Green Party), but then also the [radical] Left Party. Their leader said before Christmas that they wanted to cover Sweden with as much wind power as possible. They are really pro-more renewables.

A second comment on the government: we have five parties behind the [2016] energy agreement. The two parties that are lacking are the Left party and the Liberals. What I think now is that the Liberals – having the agreement with the Centre Party – I hope that they will [eventually] join the energy agreement. And I also hope that the Left Party will join it.

When do you think a support scheme or auctioning system for offshore wind could be in effect? And when could the first batch of a new wave of offshore wind projects be commissioned?

When it comes to auction systems and offshore, I think the most important thing now is to take away the transmission fee for offshore. I know the government is working on this. I think that this has to be resolved first, before we talk about any other support scheme.

[As for] green certificates, we are leaving that system for onshore. And then we [set out to] take away the grid fees. Once we have done that, we can discuss more about if we should have another type of system, and for what purpose.

"Offshore grid fees have to be resolved."

When it comes to the first batch of new offshore, I know there are permits, and there are quite a lot in the pipeline. All our members that do offshore, when they speak to me, they are waiting for this political proposal. That will mean a lot. So when it comes, I am convinced, it is in the agreement. Then, I think we will have more offshore by the end of the 2020s.

While other countries such as Poland or Taiwan are speeding ahead… Sweden is moving very slowly.

Getting more permits takes time. But it is important for existing permits to get this positive feedback from parliament that we would take away the grid fees. And then, these that already have permits, can start to build the structure.

Then you will also have a large portion of new permits coming in, once grid fees go away. It will come in different portions.

But before we speculate, it is important to see what the government will do this year, because I am convinced that they will present something. Maybe that will be one of the big things that the new energy minister will do

So you think the energy minister would introduce a waiver of grid fees this year?

Yes. They have these two proposals from the energy agency last year. And they are being discussed within the government and also with Brussels. So I think that they will definitely come up with something this year.

Is the Swedish transmission system built up enough to accommodate much larger volumes of intermittent onshore and offshore wind power?

No, sadly not. The transmission system is not built enough for any type of renewables. Since we have the goals with so much more renewables, it is very important that the system will be more modern. And also getting permits for the system is very slow.

Many things have to be done. But mainly to modernise the system, and to speed up things.

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