Controversy over Proposed Solar Park in Hiking Area Raises Questions about Norway’s Energy Future

– That will there will be territorial conflicts in the future, that is guaranteed. There will be demanding discussions locally, there will be conflict. But the country needs power.

That was the message from Åslaug Haga this week. She is the leader of the interest organization Fornybar Norge and spoke in front of a large gathering of the power industry.

From the same stage, the government made it clear that wind and solar must be developed at a tremendous pace.

Gigantic industrial park in a hiking area

A touchstone for that development is now taking place in Midt-Telemark municipality, more precisely in Nordagutu.

It is not without reason that Bø Sommarland is located just a couple of miles away: the area is known for good sunny conditions.

The new company Solutvikling, partly owned by the giant, wants to do there

Agder Energi and Glitre Energi have merged into one company.

“/>, to develop what will become one of Norway’s largest solar parks with ground-mounted solar panels. They will place it right next to the buildings.

In practice, this means that they want to cut down a larger forest area, and install row after row of solar panels.

The facility is planned to be built in a popular hiking area, in a forest that, among other things, contains a light trail. The area spans around a nature nursery, sports facilities, church and housing estate. Telemark Hospital also has a department for rehabilitation in the immediate vicinity.

The forest area on the edge of the settlement is around 270 acres. According to the landowner, the plan is anyway to cut down the forest because it is ripe for harvesting.

Got a chin drop

After the well in the area heard about the plans for the first time in April, it has gradually dawned on the residents what this will actually mean.

The mayor was previously contacted by the company who wondered how they should go about informing the municipality of the plans.

– Then I said that the wisest thing was to inform those who live in Nordagutu first, who are closest to them. I thought that they would be allowed to skip reading about it, but hear it directly, but I can see that it might have caused some problems: If you find out something, it takes a while before you take it in and discuss it, and now they are very upset, mayor Siri Blichfeldt Dyrland (Sp) tells Nettavisen.

Because after three representatives from vellet were initially informed, and “almost had their jaws dropped when they saw the plans” as they put it, a separate action group has been established and public meetings have been arranged which have expressed strong opposition to the plans.

– Their first thought was to immediately move the plant further away from the settlement, but after a few rounds in the thinking box and input from the villagers, they suddenly realized that this would not be a lucky outcome either, says spokesperson Inger Lise Eek Vegheim in the action group to Nettavisen.

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– We are an action group that was put together after a meeting we had with several people in the village. We demand that no solar power plant be built at Sundsmoen at all. In other words, full stop, she says.

Their list of arguments is long. They use professional reports which say, among other things, that so-called “grey areas” are desired for placement. It is about the popular hiking area that is disappearing. That the area will probably be fenced off. That this is a play area for the children, directly next to the nature nursery. It’s about the rehabilitation center.

– Frustrated and sorry

Bjarte Tørå is part of the action group. He tells Nettavisen that the feelings have developed violently.

– The first reactions were a mixture of great surprise, a little bewilderment and a little shock. That they are thinking of building a power plant next door to a sports facility, a nursery school, our great hall, a parish hall and, not least, housing, which is the largest area for housing in this part of the municipality, he says.

He says that the astonishment gradually turned into the thought that “it can’t be these areas that you should use”?

Now you are left with a “is this really happening?”, and you also get sad and despair. They want to take what we have from areas around us. That’s where we are. That is what our outdoor recreation and hiking area is, he says.

Brings almost no income

The residents have also gone a long way in convincing the municipality that this is not an idea that should be implemented.

On Thursday, there was a public meeting in Nordagutu, where a number of parties signaled that they would go against the development, but that perhaps work should be started to identify other areas that might be better suited to be able to produce electricity.

In addition to the fact that the residents of the area are strongly negative, there is no significant income that comes with having such a facility in the municipality.

– As I understand it, there is no other income than property tax. It will probably be about NOK 100-150,000, I haven’t calculated that, says the mayor to Nettavisen, who in any case believes that it is the people in the area who are the most important thing here.

Can set the standard for the rest of the country

Part of the challenge with ground-mounted solar power is that very little of this type of power has been built in Norway so far, and especially little in the immediate vicinity of buildings.

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At the same time, a lot is going on: NVE states that they are aware of up to 50 different major solo projects being planned.

It is not made less complicated by the fact that the regulations are old, but that probably will be updated according to the template from the recently updated regulations for solar power, which gives the municipality more power.

The area in which it can be built is currently defined as a so-called LNF area which has its own protection. But because the plant will be subject to a licence, it is not the municipality that decides this alone. NVE is in charge, and in the extreme, the Government can override the municipality with a state plan.

– I called NVE to ask them, and then I was told that this is a bit of a new work, and some rules are now on the way. But they said that if there is a license application, the municipality will be an important hearing party, and that the municipality’s response will be given great weight, but it is still NVE that has the authority and power in the matter, says the mayor.

The fact that there is little practice in this type of case means that the decision in this case, which is close to housing, may become relevant for future applications.

– The decisions made at Nordagutu may not only be about us. The decisions here at Nordagutu can become an example that will also be guiding for planned solar power plants near buildings in the future, believes Eek Vegheim.

– Perhaps the experiences from the development of wind turbines should be a clear warning to be careful, she asks rhetorically.

Tørå indicates that they are already seeing signs of this.

– As of today, reference is often made to projects that have progressed somewhat further in the process, such as in Birkeland, on how this can be done. My concern is that when you have very few guidelines to go by, you should perhaps be a little extra careful when choosing the location of a solar power plant.

– If you put it so close to buildings, as is being planned at Nordagutu, in a hiking area that is demonstrably used by many, very often: Could it then become the example that is referred to when other solar power plants are to be built out? “You could do that at Nordagutu, so then you must also be able to do it here,” says Tørå to Nettavisen.

– Few areas that are better suited

The background for the whole desire to develop more solar is about the need for more electricity. The electricity crisis of the last couple of years, combined with an assumed greatly increased demand for power in the coming years, means that most people agree that more electricity generation must be built.

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It was also the spinal reflex of the neighbors at Nordagutu.

Trygve Raen in Solutvikling tells Nettavisen that the plant at Nordagutu is expected to be 18 MWp (maximum power). The plant will produce approximately 18 GWh of electricity a year, equivalent to the electricity consumption of around 1,000 homes.

The cost will be somewhere between NOK 110 and 130 million, based on NVE’s analyses.

– NVE’s analyzes indicate that ground-mounted solar power plants are today more profitable than offshore wind, but less profitable than onshore wind power. In contrast to wind power, there have been no support schemes for ground-mounted solar power plants in Norway. All planned ground-mounted solar power plants must therefore stand on their own “own” legs and be 100% commercially profitable in order to be established, he says.

He believes the area in Nordagutu meets all the criteria they are looking for:

– Important criteria for choosing a location are solar conditions, terrain profile and network capacity. The flatter the less intervention and the more reversible the measure will be. Network capacity is an important factor that affects the profitability of the project. It is also socially beneficial to use areas where there is free capacity for feeding into the network. Consideration of biological diversity and cultural heritage are also factors that we emphasize when choosing a location. The location in Telemark meets all these criteria very well and there are few areas which, in our opinion, are better suited.

He points out that “proper forest management” means that the forest should now be felled.

– And if, after the end of the concession period, someone wishes to re-establish the forest there, it will be entirely possible.

According to Raen, solar power should be significantly less conflict-ridden than wind power:

– In contrast to wind power on land, ground-mounted solar power plants emit minimal noise and they tower much less in the terrain. By putting a vegetation belt around the plant, it will not be visible from the outside. Ground-mounted solar power plants can also be built with minimal intervention and can be relatively easily removed after the end of the concession period, he says.

Whether there will be any of the plans remains to be seen. according to the schedule the company has put forward, they should use the time until Christmas to work on both the license application and to work out the details of the project. They hope to make an investment decision around the New Year. The work can start in February.

2023-06-10 14:10:34

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