Should locals have a say when it’s blowing? The influence of municipalities in permit procedures for windpower installations in Sweden and Norway

Nordic Environmental Law Journal, No 1, 2020, pp. 59-79.

Windpower is increasingly promoted as an environmentally friendly solution in a power-hungry world. At the same time, local resistance against such large scale developments is growing in many European countries, including Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. Against this background, a crucial issue concerns what voice local communities have in decisions regarding new windpower projects. This article investigates this issue through a comparison between Sweden and Norway, two countries with contrasting experiences.

After a brief description of the development of windpower in Sweden and in Norway, the system for environmental decision-making in Sweden and the permit procedure for wind farms are presented, followed by analysis of how the ‘veto rule’ is applied in practice and the debate on this issue. A presentation of the Norwegian system for environmental decision-making comes next, followed by a section on lessons learned about the influence of the municipalities in these processes. The article concludes with some remarks from a legal scientific and policy viewpoint on local influence on decision-making concerning renewable energy installations.

The author argues that, basically, local acceptance is crucial for this development. National planning instruments should be combined with possibilities for the municipalities to have a say concerning the localization of wind farms. Further, financial arrangements to the benefit municipalities hosting such installations ought to be developed in order to increase local acceptance. This combination of local influence and economic benefits for the hosting societies may prove effective in promoting these much-needed renewable energy sources.