In 2018, a solid majority believed that Norway should increase onshore wind power production. Since then, support has dropped considerably, before starting to rise again this year. What actually influences people's attitudes towards wind power?
– I would like to highlight four key points. They are the process, distribution, purpose, and natural values, begins Merethe Dotterud Leiren.
The research director at the CICERO Center for Climate Research has unique insights into what is crucial for attitudes towards onshore wind power. Through a large project initiated by the EU, and an ongoing national project called ENABLE, Leiren has reviewed vast amounts of research literature on the subject and arrived at some essential findings.
Many people can accept an outcome they were initially against if the rules have been followed, and the process has been carried out properly.
The first point she emphasizes is the importance of a transparent and orderly process.
– People want the processes related to wind power facilities to be done properly. They want accurate and good information, and they want to be heard. It can't just be for show; people must feel that their input is taken into account, says Leiren.
But do the quality of the processes matter, or are people either for or against development regardless?
– Many people can accept an outcome they were initially against if the rules have been followed, and the process has been carried out properly. Then they can accept the decision, says Leiren.
The research director moves on to the next point on the list – distribution.
– Distribution must be perceived as fair; local communities must benefit from giving up natural areas. To be able to live with the negative effects of wind power, there must be some benefits as well. It can't just be the investors who reap the rewards, says Leiren.
This brings her to the third key point, namely the purpose of development.
– What will the power be used for? That's also important for the population. Traditionally, people prefer to support new energy production where the energy will be used locally or at least nationally, rather than the purpose being to export the power out of the country.
The final element that affects our attitudes is natural values. Or what Leiren prefers to call a value conflict.
– The challenge with climate measures is that there are no win-win situations. Many climate measures consume vast areas, not just wind power. Norway has more untouched nature than many other countries, and this is often where the major conflict lies. Nature conservation versus wind power as a climate measure, says the research director.
She emphasizes that the concept of a value conflict encompasses more than just nature conservation itself. For example, it includes local identity, and above all:
– It is also about local businesses in Norway, such as reindeer husbandry. The Fosen judgment shows that mistakes have been made along the way. Overall, I believe it's important to see opposition to wind power as something useful, not just as something that hinders development. It has led to addressing several issues regarding regulations, processes, etc., and attempts to improve them.
CICERO has been conducting regular surveys since 2018, measuring the development of people's opinions on various climate measures, including wind power. Four years ago, 65 percent, a solid majority, believed that Norway should increase onshore wind power production. Last year, the proportion was almost halved, with only 33 percent holding the same view. The proportion of those who are unsure or ambivalent has remained stable at around one-quarter.
– In 2021, for the first time in our surveys, there were more people saying no than yes to increased onshore wind power production. There are several reasons for this that can be related to the four points I have talked about, says Leiren.
She points out that Norway had little tradition of onshore wind power, but it created optimism about the future in many places. In a few years in the 2010s, there was significant development, partly due to cheaper technology and support systems that were to be phased out.
– It went too fast; the regulations didn't quite keep up. Opposition to wind power began to increase in the autumn of 2018 and escalated further in 2019 in connection with the presentation of the National Framework for Wind Power, says Leiren.
She mentions other specific reasons for the declining support.
– For example, people reacted to processes where they were promised something different from what they actually got – regarding the turbine height, to name one thing. The purpose was also unclear because we had a power surplus in Norway.
In 2022, however, support for wind power has somewhat recovered. CICERO's data shows that 39 percent support more onshore development, compared to 35 percent who are against.
– In times of crisis, the authorities are reopening for onshore wind power development. Now, we no longer have a power surplus in Norway; we need more power. Suddenly, the purpose has become very clear. Offshore wind power is also not mature enough until the 2030s, says Merethe Dotterud Leiren, before she concludes:
– It will be very interesting to see what happens next. Has the resistance made it almost impossible to gain support for such projects locally? Or will the opening we now see actually lead to significantly more onshore wind power?