The negative impact of wind power

A conundrum for Norway

wind power

Image: Ole Martin Wold, extracted from illustration by Øran Jensen
Two turbines built on bedrock in Trøndelag County, north of Trondheim.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Norway is a long, mountainous country exposed to the winds of the North Atlantic. For wind power, that’s both good and bad news. The good news is that though the country’s abundant hydroelectric power is consistently reliable, winds can and do take down electric power lines, blacking out areas of the country. So wind farms, which are locations at which electricity-producing wind turbines are grouped together, ensure reliable electricity supply throughout. At the end of 2018, the total capacity of Norwegian wind farms was 1,595 megawatts (MW). On a per-capita basis, that’s 325 MW per million residents, a figure that ranks Norway seventh in the world, ahead of the United States at 191 MW per million residents (Wind power getting boost in Norway, The Norwegian American, Vol. 130 #8, April 19, 2019, print edition p. 10).

The bad news is that though the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of wind farms are extremely low, building them may incur drawbacks that limit their deployment. A wind farm of turbines anchored to bedrock arguably is a reflection of everyday common sense. Jamaican-American singer Harry Belafonte remarked in the 1956 song “Hosanna,” that “House built on a rock foundation, it will stand, oh yes.”

Just as a weak foundation weakens the house of Hosanna, the overall environmental cost of a wind farm skyrockets if its location requires building a construction road to haul in machines and materials or if its turbines require concrete foundations that add to GHG cost. Moreover, the most suitable locations for wind farms in Norway are on marshes that for eons have been sinks for biosequestration, the capture and storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Building on marshes disrupts biosequestraton and leads to the emission of damaging amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

That conundrum is particularly acute in Trøndelag in mid Norway, the region and county with more marshland than anywhere else in the country. Trøndelag also leads in wind parks developed and planned, has an electricity grid of copious capacity, and benefits from favorable wind conditions. According to the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE), by 2021, Trøndelag will account for a third of Norway’s wind power capacity. Some 40% of the prioritized wind power development areas are in Trøndelag.

The upshot, as featured in the cover story of the September 2019 edition of Aftenposten Innsikt (“Aftenposten Insight”), published monthly by the newspaper, is that Vindkraft kan gi klimatap; storskilt utbygging truer karbon-lagrende myr (“Wind power may lead to environmental loss; Large-scale development threatens carbon-sinking marshes”).

This article originally appeared in the December 13, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.