electronic camera that I used to take the pictures for
this article cost me $34.95. It's rugged, which was necessary for this excursion, but the pictures leave something to
be desired. That's collaborative media for you.
Late last summer, I took a weekend trip up to the northern coast of Norway, to have a look at one of the largest new
wind farms in Europe which is being built there. Norwegians have committed to 10% of their countries power from
alternative sources by 2010, and they're counting on wind power for a big chunk of it. This large wind farm is being
built on a rather small island which lies about 10 kilometers off the northern coast, called
on Smøla, I even caught a few myself while I was there, but the fishing industry in general on the island just isn't
what it used to be, according to local residents. With that in mind, they approved the construction of
150 megawatt Wind Farm
to be installed on the southwest (seaward) side of the island.
While it was being considered, the issue of building a wind farm on Smøla was very controversial. In fact it
divided the Green movement
in the country, with half of the Greens more concerned about the effects of the turbine blades on
and noise, than the non-polluting power. After finally being approved, construction started
late in 2001, with installation of the final turbine anticipated this summer (2003).
While visiting the island, I stayed at a
(like a bed and breakfast) called Annies, which serves the local tourist industry, as well as a few of the
workers who are building the wind farm. The farm's construction manager was among them, and his name was Haakon. Haakon
was a friendly Danish fellow who worked for the company which had been tapped to supply and install the wind turbines
for this farm. He took me on an unofficial tour of the site, which was a few kilometers down the road
from Annies place.
It was a windy morning when my tour began, with a steady 25 mph breeze blowing from the south. Approaching the site, the
of a wind farm is apparent from a long ways away. As we drove towards the current jobsite, Haakon politely answered my
questions, and pointed out that there wouldn't be any significant work on the site on this particular day, since the
wind was too strong to use the construction cranes safely. The site entrance was marked with a
indicating that the operation was owned and financed by
a Norwegian power company which intends to build enough wind power in Norway to provide
2 TWh per year by 2010.
At the entrance to the farm began a
wide dirt road
which had been built up across the craggy, but sensitive landscape. The road would eventually be narrowed and paved
over, Haakon said, but the width was necessary in the construction phase. He also pointed out that road-building is
kept to a minimum in these endeavors.
Driving along the dirt road, we slowly passed by cleared and leveled dirt plots which covered the saged,
seaside landscape - each about 40 meters in diameter. The part of the island where the windmills are being constructed
consists of low, rocky hills mostly covered with brush and marsh grasses which are tolerant to cold weather and wind.
(natch) There were also sensitive marshlands further inland on the island, but the ground was much too soft to build
there. Placing a windmill requires a solid foundation, and in this case that meant placing them nearer to the coastline.
Each cleared plot contained a growing windmill. Some had only a small concrete foundation with
a bunch of bolts sticking up, others had one or more tower sections
laid out on the ground,
and there were some which had one or more sections
Each tower section was roughly 20 meters long, and a finished windmill had three sections beneath it's turbine. The blades
for the "fan" for each windmill, each 30 meters long, along with the
were also deployed at some of the plots.
The turbine on a modern windmill is quite a work of engineering. Producing 2 megawatts of power requires a lot of coils
to begin with, so much so, that the turbine is about the
same size as a double-length tractor trailer.
Each one weighed 150 tons, and that's without the fan attached. On a day which was suitable
for lifting the crews would show up early to man the heavy construction crane which was brought in to lift the turbine,
and the lighter "tender" cranes which lift the men and tools to attach the turbine to the top of the waiting
tower, more than 50 meters in the air.
Installing the fan blades, according to the Haakon, was nearly as tricky as installing the heavy turbines, due to their
30-meter length, and natural tendency to catch the wind. Usually, each blade would be installed individually, but if
there was enough flat ground in the vicinity of the turbine, they could pre-build the nose cone and blades in the final
configuration on the ground, and lift the entire fan in the air in one shot. But, he said with a note of frustration,
"that doesn't happen very often". Without filling and leveling much more sensitive coastland, it was difficult to find
enough flat ground on the rocky shores of the island to do this.
Ironically, the biggest problem with building a wind farm is the wind itself. It's physically impossible (well, it's
against the work and safety laws, anyways) to install the turbine or blades with a breeze above 20mph (10 m/s), which
leaves scant few days in a year which are ideal for building a wind turbine on an optimal site. Lifting the 150 ton
turbines 60 meters in the air to line them up with dozens of small bolt-holes at the top of the tower is a dangerous and
risky business, and requires some pretty strong nerves, according to Haakon and his crew. Even on light-wind days.
one of the finished windmills might give some perspective of it's size and power, if you keep in mind that there's
the equivalent of a loaded semi-truck up on top.
The people who lived on the island that I spoke to seemed to be generally glad to see the wind
turbines going up, in spite of the long political battle. The island is rich in natural beauty and wildlife, which
nobody wanted to see harmed, but economic benefits to the local economy and the appeal of clean power seemed to sway
most opinions towards approval. A wind farm might not be as appealing as the natural coastline, but they're much nicer
to look at than the of unused and decaying
fish drying racks, which used to be the lifeblood
of many of these small islands. What was not forthcoming out of the construction of this power plant, however, was lots
of permanent jobs. When complete, according to Haakon, it would take only 3 people to manage the place year-round.