The interests of those who object to wind turbine installations often gain strong legal protection and thus make the role of stakeholder participation crucial. Swedish law provides for - and encourages - stakeholders to participate in the decision-making process. Applications are sent out for comments, and consultations and public meetings are arranged in connection with the environmental impact assessment, as well as the planning and permitting procedures. The Environmental Protection Agency, the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning, the County Administrative Board, one or several municipalities, individuals and organizations are all invited to participate. In principle, the courts are obliged to independently assess the individual circumstances in each case. They carry out their own evaluation and balancing of interests and draw conclusions consistent with the preconditions in the law. As a consequence, the courts should ignore opinions put forward by a state agency or a municipality if these are in conflict with the court's own judgement. Nevertheless, standpoints taken by state authorities and municipalities regularly influence the final decision. When arguing for a certain conclusion, the court may even refer explicitly to these standpoints. Since the only formally binding legal source -the legal text - does not in any precise way outline how to value and balance the interests involved, it is inevitable that stakeholders' attitudes often gain significant weight in the courts' decisions.
Stakeholder participation is time consuming and may therefore significantly delay the implementation of wind power projects. This problem is accentuated by the appeal possibilities and by the overlap of the permit and planning systems. Assume, for instance, that a large wind turbine is projected offshore close to a city. The Planning and Building Act would normally require a detailed plan and a separate building permit. According to the Environmental Code, two permits are needed, one since the turbine constitutes a (potential) 'environmentally hazardous activity', and another since it represents a 'water activity'.10 Each of the permitting processes provide for stakeholder participation and for appeals in two additional instances. Although the different permitting procedures are sometimes coordinated, it is obvious that the overall planning and permitting process may take several years, in some cases eight to ten years, particularly in those cases where strong negative attitudes are expressed among relevant stakeholders.
The issue of participation and access to justice is a delicate one. One can argue that the likelihood of obtaining the environmentally 'right' decision will increase with frequent stakeholder involvement. Clearly, it is also a matter of democracy and the necessity to increase the long-term legitimacy for wind power. The previous strongly negative stance among many Swedes towards the nuclear industry was partly due to the permitting arrangements. Safety in nuclear plants was judged according to a special legislation with a procedure that did not permit substantial participation by the public.11 Still, the issue is quite complex. On the one hand, the Swedish public tends to provide a lot of general support for the national energy goals concerning wind power. On the other hand, other goals can easily be - and, indeed, often are - put in the foreground at the local level. It may thus be equally appropriate to argue that the prospects of a legal process stretching over eight years or more, and the associated costs, will deter too many from even contemplating a wind power project. It thus seems necessary to review the planning and permitting process in order to make it less time consuming without compromising essential possibilities for stakeholder participation and access to justice. One alternative could be to increase the presence of local ownership in wind projects. In contrast to the situation in some other European countries (e.g. Denmark and Spain), systematic use of means to promote local participation in wind power projects is generally lacking in Sweden. Before 1991, it was not even possible for small private Swedish investors to get public economic support for turbine installations.
For the prospective wind power investor, another strategy to avoid land-use conflicts and related public criticisms would simply be to install the turbines out of view, preferably offshore. We have seen that offshore installations tend to gain more public support than onshore ones, primarily since the aesthetic and noise-related intrusion is often perceived as less severe. The conflict of interest between national energy policy priorities and local implementation also appears to be less intense in the offshore case. In addition to avoiding the removal of land from other competing uses, offshore installations offer some operational advantages. The wind conditions are generally better; but so far this is offset by the higher capital costs associated with offshore investment. Nevertheless, new wind power projects - in Sweden and abroad - are increasingly planned offshore (e.g. Pasqualetti, 2004).
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