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Book Reviews

May 16, 2014
Paul Gipe

Windpower Ownership in Sweden--a Review

 40% of Swedish Windpower is Owned by Swedes Themselves

Nearly 26,000 Swedes Own a Share of a Wind Cooperative

Windpower Ownership in Sweden: Business models and motives, the new book by Tore Wizelius helps English-speakers understand how Swedes have taken a sizable ownership of wind energy in spite of their government. In this, his book can serve as an inspiration to community wind advocates worldwide who face many of the same challenges faced in Sweden.

One of the original community wind pioneers, Wizelius has written eight books on wind energy. While I can’t say I have all his books on my shelf, I have most of them. It’s something to be said for Wizelius that his books have a prominent place in my collection whether they are in Swedish or English.

Windpower Ownership in Sweden is Wizelius’ PhD thesis on a topic that is close to his—and my own—heart: community ownership of wind energy.

Sweden is Scandinavian, certainly, but it is not Denmark. Though they share certain cultural traditions and can understand some of each others language, Sweden and Denmark are quite different. This is frustrating for us community wind advocates. We expected the Swedes to be swept up in the cooperative wind movement on the same scale as seen in Denmark. That never happened for a host of reasons that Wizelius explains in detail.

Nevertheless, Sweden has far more community ownership of wind turbines than most European countries outside Germany and Denmark. And certainly Sweden has far more community ownership than seen in North America. For that reason alone, Wizelius’ book should be required reading among renewable energy NGOs in Canada and the US, as well as such disparate policy advisers as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the US and the Ontario Power Authority in Canada.

It’s significant that Sweden developed a nuclear power industry just as in Britain, Canada, and the US. Ironically, it was Swedish development of a nuclear power plant across the straits from Copenhagen that led to the Danish people’s rebellion against nuclear power and their demand for wind energy.

Further, Sweden also had world-class heavy industry manufacturing fighter jets and automobiles. In this, Sweden is more closely resembles the US and Canada than does Denmark.

Denmark had none of these industries. Some have argued that the absence of these centralized, “top-down” institutions was one of the reasons that the Danish citizen movement was able to divert the country’s political establishment away from nuclear toward wind.

Despite the similarity between Sweden and the English-speaking world, Swedes were able to place a significant portion of their wind energy in the hands of local citizens. They were led—as in Denmark—by stubborn visionaries, such as Wizelius, who wouldn’t be deterred by the excuse heard so often: “It can’t be done here.”

Wizelius himself wrote a manual on how to develop a windpower cooperative in hopes, he says, of “starting a social chain-reaction”. He’s done his part.

As an academic, a researcher, and a wind cooperative developer Wizelius concludes early in his book that among the many policies for developing wind energy, feed-in tariffs have proven the most successful. He adds that even the European Wind Energy Association, an industry lobby that has not been a friend of feed-in tariffs or community ownership, found in a survey of 500 European experts that feed-in tariffs were their top choice of public policy for developing wind energy.

This is one of the big differences between Sweden and Denmark. Sweden jumped on the neoliberal bandwagon early on and has tried every kind of program but fixed-feed in tariffs. In contrast, Denmark was the first country in Europe to implement a form of feed-in tariffs when it abandoned its subsidy program in the mid 1980s. It was these early feed-in tariffs in Denmark that enabled cooperatives to grow so rapidly in Denmark that by the late 1990s 85% or more of the wind generating capacity was owned by its own citizens.

Sweden’s use of “anything but feed-in tariffs” has led to a bewildering array of ownership structures as farmers, homeowners, small businesses, and industry try to find a way to develop wind energy for themselves. Thus, Wizelius book is the first in English to document how--despite what appears as overwhelming obstacles placed in their path—Swedes have garnered a part of wind energy that they and their communities own. This is Wizelius’ unique contribution to the literature on wind energy and the Swedish people’s desire to own it themselves.

There are now nearly 26,000 members of wind cooperatives in Sweden, far more in the nation of 10 million than in the US and Canada with its combined population of 350 million. Yet Swedish cooperatives account for only 4% of Sweden’s 3,500 MW of wind capacity.

However, this serves to illustrate the complexity of the Swedish market that has bedeviled outside observers. Community or local ownership can mean much more than cooperatives alone. As seen in Germany’s Bürgerbeteiligung, wind companies can be developed by local community groups. And, as in Germany and Denmark, Swedish farmers or groups of farmers may own wind turbines outright.

When Wizelius expanded his definition of community wind to include projects with “local ownership,” he made the surprising observation that 40% of all the wind capacity in Sweden is owned by Swedes directly.

Community power advocates such as the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, the Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative, the Institute for Local Self Reliance, David Toke and others can take heart in Wizelius findings that even in Sweden with its top-down, hierarchical structure, creative and determined people can find a way to build and own their renewable future.

Like Franz Alt, the popular German author who celebrates the creation of new local wind projects as “gifts from heaven,” Wizelius offers several uplifting examples of local organizers and activists who have brought projects to fruition. He cites the inauguration of the Hedboberget wind farm where the church choir performed a cantata specifically created for the occasion.

Similarly, Wizelius describes the “Falkenberg Gate” where a community that could easily have said they don’t want a wind farm at the entrance to their community instead built the wind farm as “the” gateway to their community in a very public statement of the kind of community they wanted to be known for. That’s the celebratory attitude toward wind energy that local ownership makes possible.

Thanks to Wizelius’ book we in the English-speaking world know of the Falkenberg Gate, the wind farm at Hedboberget, and other examples of how Swedes have taken ownership of wind energy into their own hands.

Windpower Ownership in Sweden: Business models and motives by Tore Wizelius, Routledge, cloth, 224 pages, ISBN: 978-1-13-802111-2, June 2014.


Acknowledgements Executive Summary 1. Introduction 1.1 Own Your Own Power Plant 1.2 Aim and Research Questions 1.3 Outline 1.4 Personal Background 2. Transition of Socio-technical Systems 2.1 Socio-technical Systems 2.2 Transition to Renewable Energy 3. Windpower in the Electric Power System 3.1 Properties of Windpower Plants 3.2 Integration of Windpower 3.3 Technical Acceptance 3.4 The Electric Power Market 4. Windpower Development and Ownership 4.1 Wind Turbines for Grid Connection 4.2 Ownership 5. Ownership Models in Sweden 5.1 Windpower Business Structure 5.2 Development of Ownership Models 5.3 Corporate Business Models 5.4 Cooperative Business Models 5.5 Real Estate Companies 5.6 Industrial Companies 5.7 Mixed Ownership 5.8 Umbrella Companies 5.9 Summary and Conclusion 6. Windpower Ownership in Sweden 6.1 Windpower development in Sweden 6.2 Ownership Categories 6.3 Other Ownership Categories 6.4 Community Power 6.5 Consumer Windpower 6.6 Summary 7. Windpower Owners’ Motives 7.1 Private Owners 7.2 Windpower Cooperatives 7.3 Windpower Limited Co 7.4 Other Companies 7.5 Power Companies 7.6 Municipalities & Municipal Utilities 7.7 Motives for Investments in Windpower 8. The Relevance of Windpower Ownership 8.1 Summary of Findings 8.2 Networks with Windpower 8.3 Advantages and Disadvantages 8.4 Adaption of Laws, Rules and Regulations 9. Future Outlook 9.1 Conclusions 9.2 Future Research References Appendix Appendix A. Interviews Appendix B. The Electric Power System Appendix C. The Nord Pool Market Appendix D. Windpower Owners in Sweden Appendix E. Abbreviations

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