The largest onshore wind park in Europe is emerging in a remote area nearly eight times the size of Manhattan covered by millions of young fir trees.
Workers are building turbines perched atop towers 430 feet tall at a speed of about two a week at the site in northern Sweden, where the mercury routinely falls below 14 degrees Fahrenheit as well as the sun is hardly been there for months on end during winter. To date, over 170 of the machines are scattering across the sparse landscape owned by some of the largest forest companies in the nation. Markbygden, as the site is called, maybe the clearest sign of the industry’s seismic shift away from incentives and to focus on prices that also place returns on conventional gas, coal or nuclear power plants. It’s also a harbinger for the massive buildings that nations will need to achieve the climate goals they’re debuting at this week’s United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Madrid.
The wind farm has attracted investors from a diverse range of high finance and power. The facility will be spent as much as $7 billion by companies including General Electric Co. and Macquarie Group Ltd. It will be vital for the power supply of Sweden as two old reactors are due to be permanently closed next year, as well as for exports of power to the continent. Some of the power will also be sold to customers, including Norsk Hydro ASA, an aluminium producer, under a contract that was the first of its kind when it was signed two years ago.
The expansion of wind power across northern Sweden has been likened to the last few decades ‘ Texan wind boom, making the state the largest producer in the U.S. The high plains may look very different from the Swedish forests, but both provide vast expanses of land with steady enough favourable breezes for spinning turbines. “Sweden has more in common with Texas than the rest of Europe when it comes to wind power,” said Roland Flaig, director of the renewable energy branch of RWE AG in Sweden, in an interview. “Few and large landowners make it possible to build larger parks.” Upon completion of the facility in the next decade, it will be connected by a network of gravel roads that stretch longer than London to Paris. Two power lines on pylons cut through the flat landscape where the only other landmarks are the turbines.
The Markbygden facility, developed by Svevind AB, is spread over 111,000 acres. When construction began in 2012, it had only six inhabitants. 600 to 700 employees are working on the site at its peak. Most of them are staying in nearby Pitea, and a sauna was built on-site by the Finns. The area is still being used by locals for hunting and snowmobiling.
But the boom of the country is more than that of Markbygden. Several other big developer ventures are ongoing, including OX2 AB and Arise AB, and wind power generation is projected to double in the next three years in the largest economy in the Nordic world. For example, companies say that they prefer Sweden over Germany, citing the relative ease of obtaining permission for large parks.