Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Swedish local communities can veto against wind power - but not against oil drilling. What is fair about that?


Last week the Swedish parliament voted on a proposal from the opposition to restrict local communities' right to veto against wind power investments. The reason such such a veto exists is not pure nimby-ism or conservatism. Wind mills does affect the local environment and any environmentalist approach to land usage must recognize the local communities right to decide over local investments.

Still, the veto has been criticized as an obstacle to the development of clean energy in Sweden. We currently produce less than 1500 GWh of wind power while other European countries like Spain produces less than 30 000 GWh and Germany around 40 000 GWh.

That is much more wind power produced per inhabitant. Of course, every country  (or rather every bio-region) has to find it's own energy mix, and the value of this kind of comparison might be limited. 

What makes the matter sour is not so much this decision per se, but the hypocrisy that surrounds it. In various parts of southern Sweden oil companies are searching for places to extract more fossil fuels.
You can not drill oil wells in Sweden, but you can extract some using the infamous method of hydraulic fracturing. An activity that does not only add new co2 emissions to a heated world, but in many cases destroys the life of local communities through pollution. We talk about ugly sites that makes land unusable for tourism. We talk about noise that makes people leave their homes. And we talk about numerous cases of local disasters where chemicals leak out and poison drinking water. 

If you have not heard about hydraulic fracturing before I advise you to watch this video - and be aware that this is an issue coming to your country if it isn't already there.

Against such land usage neither local communities, nor the land owners themselves have any veto. Because they only own the land - whatever lies under it is leased by the state to private interests.

Imagine having a small scale farm trying to attract tourists to a distant but beautiful area. This is not an uncommon scenario for European countryside dwellers. Against your will the state gives a company you never heard of the right to extract oil 200 meters from your house. If you're lucky it won't kill you. But you can forget any plans you had about developing your land.

Civil resistance against Shell's attempt to extract oil in Skåne was actually too strong to prevent it form happening, but campaigners have been working hard for a change in the law, giving landowners and local communities a say similar the wind power veto. Such a proposal was however turned down in the parliament, without any clear motivation. The law will be revised, but not changed.

To make matter worse, the right wing populists Sverigedemokraterna are cynically used in the debate. Yesterday the opposition forced through further revisions of the government's social policy, helped by the votes of Sverigedemokraterna. Of course, the government was eager to point out this, and that the opposition can only have its way by cooperating with a racist party. But if it wasn't for this racist party, the government would have lost this vote, and there would be no local veto against wind power investments.

Could one  claim that a miniscule racist party that manages Sweden's energy policy? I think it is more fair to say that it is managed by undue respect for corporate interests, voluntary blindness and hypocrisy.

How does these matters look in the country where you look? Do you have a right for local communities to veto against wind power / fossil fuel extraction? I would love to read about that in the comments.

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