Is political steering gone with the wind? Administrative power and wind energy licensing practices in Norway

Energy Research & Social Science, Vol 74, 2021, pp. 1-12. DOI: 10.1016/j.erss.2021.101963

The conflicts and potential trade-offs between renewable energy development and nature protection are evident in policies aimed at promoting windpower, particularly in nature areas under high pressure from human activities. However, surprisingly little is known about the influence of political steering on windpower licensing practices. This article examines how political steering has affected the weight accorded to environmental considerations in the licensing practices of the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE). We find that the NVE enjoys significant discretion in interpreting and implementing political decisions, and that the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy (OED) has not provided clear steering signals regarding nature protection. Political pressures for expanded renewable energy production are reflected in the significant attention paid to economic and technical considerations in the licensing process. We conclude that ministerial steering signals and the NVE’s technocratic culture have pushed in the same direction: greater development of windpower, at the expense of transparent and predictable consideration for nature concerns.