Norway’s stalled onshore wind sector has gone from being seen as a green hero to “nature-damaging crooks” in the space of a decade, the head of the nation’s industry association has warned as she joined other industry leaders in alerting that social acceptability remains a key barrier to growth.

Despite having some of the best onshore wind resources in Europe, Åslaug Marie Haga, CEO of wind body Norwea, admitted the Norwegian industry was having to ask itself “what went wrong” as it faces a freeze in new permits ahead of new legislation and regulations following a backlash against developments.

“When it comes to onshore wind in Norway it has become extremely controversial… to the extent that there are now no new permits being given out.” Haga told a panel at WindEurope’s Electric City conference in Copenhagen.

Haga – who previously had a long track record in local and national government in Norway – said a key reason for the problem was a lack of support at municipal level for wind power, with “too little money” channelled to communities by developers and investors that had “to an extent been faceless” to local people.

She also stressed a dramatic shift in perception “to the point where [onshore] wind has come to be seen as good for the environment but bad for nature – and we’ve got to deal with that.”

Wind has come to be seen as good for the environment but bad for nature.

Haga said: “If we went back to 2010, people working in the [wind] sector were seen as heroes with green, renewable energy

“Today many in the industry are seen as nature-damaging crooks.”

Norway added 1.5GW of onshore wind power last year to take its total to 4GW, according to WindEurope statistics. The nation includes giant developments such as the 1GW Fosen which is among Europe’s largest – but this year saw two of its sub-projects have their permits cancelled after action over indigenous reindeer herders’ rights.

Haga warned that a prolonged freeze on permits would threaten Norway’s 2030 climate and energy goals, with the country’s offshore wind kicking in too late to fill the gap.

Haga, third from left, joined a panel at Electric City. Photo: Recharge

But she noted that hydropower – Norway’s dominant power source – had also been controversial at its outset. “One key reason why it was accepted was a lot of money was left in local communities – it’s amazing what a little money can do. I think that’s fair,” she said for communities that are accepting “a disadvantage locally for something that’s a big advantage nationally”.

'Industry needs to listen'

Haga joined other industry leaders on the panel debating the opportunities and challenges ahead for onshore wind as it scales up to meet an EU requirement for 1,000GW of onshore wind if the bloc is to meet net zero goals, up from 165GW now – with permitting widely accepted as one of the main stumbling blocks.

Sheri Hickok, CEO for international onshore wind at US OEM GE Renewable Energy, agreed that the industry has an opportunity give more attention to the local impacts of projects as it expands dramatically across Europe.

“Have we listened to the broad constituencies as much as we should? When you look at other industries such as mining, the amount of time they spend on community engagement – that’s an entire process,” she said.

Uli Südhoff, head of central, north and eastern Europe at turbine OEM Enercon, added: “You not only to have the machine producing energy, but to what extent is it also contributing to the local environment? How can you ensure communities are participating in the benefits?

“Going to 1,000GW is great – but it remains theoretical unless we solve the permitting issue,” he said.