Wind Energy Co-operatives
Chairman, Danish Wind Turbine Owners Association
Three quarters of the 900 megawatts of wind power capacity
in Denmark is privately owned, half by individuals, half by wind
energy co-operatives. Although central Government and Parliament
has largely been favourable to wind power, it has not been an
easy task to establish private ownership of wind turbines. This
paper describes how the Danish Wind Turbine Owner's Association
has been though tough struggles, particularly with the traditional
monopolies represented by the Danish electrical power companies.
Aspera Ad Astra
After the first energy crisis in 1973, Denmark developed an
interest in producing electricity in a way that was independent
of oil and that avoided dependence on supplies of raw materials
from outside the country.
Denmark has a centuries-old tradition of using wind energy. On
high hills around the country, windmills of the so called Dutch
type have been built, and for generations they have been milling
grain for flour.
the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century,
the classic multi-blade windmill or "wind rose" appeared.
It is the windmill you always see on a lonely farm in a cowboy
film in 19th century America. It eventually outstripped the "klapsejler",
a windmill with adjustable narrow vanes which was a further development
of the Dutch windmill.
of canvas sails, there were rows of wooden sheets which had to
be adjusted. In this way it was possible to control the effect
of the wind. The multi-blade windmill as well as the "klapsejler"
were used to power agricultural machinery, grinding mills, threshing
machines, grinding wheels, etc., and also to pump water, often
up to huge containers standing on high ground, providing water
reservoirs for dry periods. In 1931 there were about 30,000 such
windmills in Denmark.
Within the field of electricity producing windmills there were
traditions to be proud of. Poul la Cour, who was a teacher at
the Folk High School Askov in the south of Jutland started a
series of experiments in 1891 with the purpose of carrying out
a rational utilisation of wind power for the production of electricity.
He took a great interest in blades and wings, and he was the
first person in the world to carry out systematic experiments
with artificial air currents in a wind tunnel. From that he drew
some fundamental conclusions concerning the elementary laws of
aerodynamics and he developed a number of windmills and blades
which marked a great advance in the design of windmills.
that time there was no grid to collect and distribute the electricity.
Instead he used electrolysis and produced oxygen and hydrogen
which was used for many years to provide the lightning for the
High School and for the houses of the village nearby.
development of the electricity producing wind turbine advanced
during periods of crisis, especially during the two world wars.
Development was continued by the Danes at the end of the 20s
and early 30s. As a natural consequence, some stable and productive
wind turbines appeared, particularly towards the end of the Second
World War. When coal and oil began to be imported to Denmark
in considerable quantities, interest dropped dramatically, and
the electricity producing wind turbines disappeared almost completely.
A splendid exception is the "Gedser Turbine". Building
on the strong memory of experiences during the war, a lot of
work was done with different experimental turbines and finally
an experimental wind turbine was built by the electricity boards,
with support from the state, at Gedser in the south of Falster.
It was in operation until 1967 and produced some exceptional
results. Its now classic dimensions were: 24 meters high, a rotor
diameter of 24 meters and a generator of 200 kW. It produced
400,000 kWh per year.
when the result was evaluated, there was only one parameter:
economics. No one considered the environment. In 1962, the price
per kWh produced by the wind turbine was double that of a kWh
produced by a power station run on oil. Therefore, the experiment
was stopped and the wind turbine was left to fall into disrepair.
In 1996 a subscription was raised in order to get money to renovate
the Gedser wind turbine so that it can become a working museum
and a dignified memory of a contribution towards future perspectives.
Through the 60s and right up to the first energy crisis in 1973,
when we wallowed in cheap oil and none thought it would one day
end, a kind of collective loss of memory set in. All experience
from the past seemed to be forgotten until suddenly, in 1973,
we were short of energy. Some proposed wind power. It was "hopeless",
some said; "it had been tried and was completely insufficient
- it was unreliable, the wind was not blowing all the time. No,
now nuclear power was the solution, the final solution to the
energy problem and our dependence on foreign countries."
But, as often happens, some individuals did not allow suppression
of public opinion.
A carpenter from west Jutland, Christian Riisager, had made up
his mind to make a new type of electricity producing wind turbine.
He experimented with a 22 kW machine with a 12 m. high tower
and blades made of glass fibre. After several attempts and some
accidents he succeeded in creating a prototype which he asked
the local electricity distribution company to approve for connection
to the grid. Christian Riisager and his wife, Boe, started a
company which marketed the turbine.
turbine was purchased by a number of idealistic visionaries from
a broad section of the Danish population. In the Spring of 1978
the number of electricity producing wind turbines of the Riisager
type installed all over the country had grown to 30 - plus a
number of electricity producing "wind roses". These,
typically had a power rating of 10 kW.
of Danish Wind Power Stations
An Association for Wind Turbine Owners was formed on the 4
May 1978 and given the rather grandiose name: Danske Vindkraftværker
(Danish Wind Power Stations). Due to the mistrust and resistance
they had met, it was not by chance they chose the 4th of May
as the day of foundation as it was on the 4th of may 1945 that
Denmark was liberated form German occupation.
The ideology behind the Association was clearly expressed on
the first General Meeting the year after. It took place at the
same time as the accident at the nuclear power station on Three
Mile Island in Pennsylvania, USA.
Amongst other things the first chairman said :
"Knowing that our energy stocks of coal, oil, gas and
uranium are limited we are surprised that since the first energy
crisis in 1973, nothing really effective has been done to initiate
relevant research and to sort out legislation related to renewable
"It puzzles me that the state energetically talks about
and plans energy only related to coal, oil, gas and uranium.
Only in passing remarks is the energy from the wind and sun mentioned,
knowing well that the first mentioned energy sources are limited,
whereas the wind and sun are inexhaustible. It also surprises
me that the energy planners when talking about coal, oil, gas
and uranium minimise the irreparable pollution connected to the
use of these materials. I am thinking of the dangers in connection
with carbon dioxide, sulphur, lead, and radiation.
Is disaster necessary to open our eyes to the fact that these
substances firstly are a health hazard, and that secondly their
availability is very limited?"
In the first articles a double goal was formulated, and in
their contents they have been unchanged since then.
Firstly, the mutual interest of the turbine owners in relation
to electricity boards, authorities, manufacturers, etc. were
to be taken care of.
more serious information about the possibilities of wind power
should be secured.
was enough to get cracking on in both areas.
wind turbine owners have related incredible incidents with electricity
distribution companies and authorities who did what they could
- due to resistance, resentment or just total lack of interest
- to jeopardise the erection of wind turbines.
also proved necessary to establish contact with the very few
manufacturers in order to have quality, service and warranty
improvements - and a little later, proper insurance contracts.
The second main goal was to contribute to serious information
about the possibilities and limitations of wind power. Behind
this was the viewpoint, that of course the advantages should
be brought into the light, but nobody - not even people who identified
themselves with the cause of wind power - could be interested
in wind turbines being positioned badly, where there was too
little wind. It was also important to give serious information
on the operating and
coast as well as risks.
was an evident demand for spreading practical, reliable information
on wind turbines at a time when the public did not take the matter
particularly seriously or attached much importance to wind power.
It was done in two ways:
- through approaches to newspapers, written contributions such
as a letter to the editor on the subject, and
- through publishing a members magazine that could be the mouthpiece
of Danish Wind Power Stations (DV) and spread information on
wind power in general. The magazine that was started was named
"Natural Energy" (Naturlig Energi). It has still got
the same name and still performs the same tasks. For several
years it has been sent each month to editorial offices, MPs working
with energy issues, and to the Ministry of Energy. All these
groups have been regularly informed about the views of the Association
and about developments in wind energy.
Wind Turbine Guilds and their Cultural Background
In 1980, the first Wind Turbine Guild was established in Ny Solbjerg
near Aarhus in Jutland and it quickly proved to be the pioneer
model for future development. Just as there is a historical explanation
for the fact that Danes establish an association as soon as 3
or 4 people have the same interest; in the same way there is
a historical explanation for the initial establishment of Wind
Turbine Guilds. The ideology behind it relates to the great Danish
poet, author, historian, vicar, MP and social critic, NFS Grundtvig.
thoughts that all peoples can and must do things themselves in
a way that is in close accordance with their very own background
and history had a breakthrough in the middle of the 19th century,
and people were inspired to build Folk High Schools all over
the young farmers, farm hands and girls, "went back to school"
and listened to stories and lectures. The story telling, which
was the central pedagogical facility, was used to interpret tales,
myths, legends, and history. They were also read aloud to and
taught about national literature and poetry. Finally they heard
lectures on other nations, travels to foreign countries and also
on professional farming subjects - but these were not the most
important. According to Grundtvig's conception, the point was
to arouse their national consciousness and feeling of identity,
and through that, increase their confidence so that they were
able to change their own conditions of life.
people and specialists were not expected to come along with their
finished conclusions, but to be at the disposal of those attending
the lectures wishing to put forward their questions.
intention was to start a dialogue between the learned society
and the people, on the people's own terms. Things should grow
from the grass roots level!
appeared to be the start signal to a fantastic evolution, first
within agriculture and later the industries connected with it.
that came in from outside had the result that Danish agriculture
was going to reorganise the production from grain to refined
agricultural products, primarily with a view to the British market.
With inspiration from Grundtvig and the Folk High School, the
farmers chose the co-operative movement as a means to do it.
Origins of Co-operatives
The idea of the co-operative movement started in Rochdale, north
of Manchester, where a co-op was opened in 1844. The first co-op
in Denmark was opened in 1866, but not until the world's first
co-operative dairy was started in 1882 in Hjedding in West Jutland
did the development really take off. Once the small farmers in
the co-operative dairies found out how to make a product that
not only could compete with the products from the big estates
but could also compete on the world market, the movement spread
fast around the country.
followed co-operative slaughter houses, co-operative feed stuff
wholesale societies, and soon co-ops were established in every
village. It became one of the greatest commercial revolutions
in the history of Denmark.
idea behind it all is simply that they made production companies/shops,
where "voting took place according to heads, not according
to livestock or other property",i.e., one man, one vote,
irrespective of how many cows a person had, irrespective of how
much a person produced or bought.
is my intention to show, through the historical links, how the
Danes gained a valuable historic experience which has been pronounced
in national life ever since, i.e., that if you are going to solve
bigger problems it is necessary that you join hands - all for
one, and one for all - and receive returns according to contribution/deposit,
but that everyone - big and small - has the equal right to decide.
Revival of the Community Spirit
In the 1970s, many co-operative undertakings disappeared from
the villages of Denmark. There are and were still co-operative
undertakings, but they have been amalgamated into large units
which often were placed in small provincial towns or in the railway
towns. In many villages people missed the popular sense of community
which they had had in the many small co-operatives, they missed
something meaningful - being together with a common purpose.
Here wind power filled the vacuum. The subject was positive:
- To strive for renewable energy
- To strive for a better environment
- To revive the joint problem solving community spirit
And the problems did indeed appear to be far too big for individuals
to solve, for economic as well as social reasons.
Therefore the wind turbine "guilds" were formed. They
are partnerships which in daily practice function as co-operatives.
For legal reasons they were forced to make formal partnerships
due to the fact that, in Denmark, the interest on the loan for
the wind turbine is tax deductible from the private income of
the individuals in a partnership, not in a co-operative, Danish
Wind Power Stations tried for years to have the law changed on
this point, but did not succeed. The consequences would be too
large in other areas.
though individually owned wind turbines continued to be erected,
the "guild" turbines were the ones that had influence
on development, and they still have. The situation was such that
the turbine "guilds" from all over the country were
the grass roots activists who worked hard to get permission to
have their turbines erected, supported by the board of Danish
Wind Power Stations (DV). This board had, of course, its origin
in the turbine guilds.
shall explain in the following how there was a liberal need for
a sense of community and solidarity in the guilds and also of
DV's possibility of solving centrally the long series of problems
that had to be solved in order to make it possible to utilise
wind power in Denmark.