Swedish municipality votes against offshore wind

A solid majority of voters in the municipality of Söderhamn say no to permitting offshore wind farm development. However, this doesn’t mean the two planned projects will necessarily be cancelled.

Photo: Söderhamn Kommun

Considering the state of affairs these days, the issue of energy comprised relatively little in Sweden’s recently decided general election – at least regarding the Riksdag constituency in Stockholm, where the hottest policy issue was nuclear power, in which several parties on the victorious right-wing block become suddenly re-enamored. Even so, zooming a bit further in shows a range of other technologies on the political landscape – also in a completely literal sense.

In the Söderhamn municipality roughly 200km north of the capital city, votes were taken not only for national, regional and municipal representative assemblies, but also on the subject of building offshore wind. This latter question resulted in a resounding rejection, where only 35% and 37% of the electorate respectively voted in favor of establishment of offshore wind at the Storgrundet nearshore site in the northern part of the Gulf of Bothnia as well as at a location further from land in the nation’s territorial waters.

In terms of specific projects, this vote tally goes against German developer wpd’s undertaking, quite fittingly dubbed Storgrundet and located 11km from shore; but also the Gretas Klacker II project, backed by Iberdrola and Svea Vind’s partnership – projects with respective planned capacities of approximately 1GW and 600MW.

The voice of the people is, however, not necessarily one that dictates policy, thus scrapping both developments without further ado – partly because the significance of the vote was merely advisory and that municipal policymakers are under no obligation to heed the electorate’s wish; but also partly because possibilities for cancelling at least one of the projects remain unclear.

Already back in 2010, wpd received the establishment license for Storgrundet. Since then, the project’s character has evolved somewhat, whereby the developer – or perhaps more accurately its owner, US based Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), now in the process of acquiring the German firm – is now planning to deploy 51 larger machines of roughly 20MW and tip heights of 290 meters rather than 71 smaller units.

The proposition to alter hardware had opponents eyeing a way to stop plans; and division on both Storgrundet and Gretas Klacker II’s among municipal voters became most evident when a majority in Söderhamn’s municipal council in January decided to not use the municipal veto against the projects – only to then shift stance to the direct opposite only weeks later.

At that point in the process, the option to hold a popular referendum was first aired. Finally then, in April, a majority in the municipal council decided to not veto development anyway.

The extent to which the political balance turned in favor of the popular vote last Sunday – also entailing local election – will likely remain unclear until Oct. 17 when the new municipal council holds its constituting assembly.

Judging from the vote tally so far, the three parties appearing supportive of Storgrundet – Labour, Center and Left – seem set to maintain a majority of mandates albeit now more narrowly, with the latter two having taken a significant tumble.

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