Guided Tour
Mailing List
About Us
Reference Manual
Map & Guide

Danish Wind Energy Co-operatives
Part 1

Flemming Tranæs
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.

Per 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.

History Before 1900
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.
At 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.
Instead 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.

Poul la Cour
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.
At 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.
The 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.

Gedser Turbine 1957
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.
However, 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.

Oil Crisis
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.

Riisager Turbine
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.
The 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.

Foundation 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 energy."

"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.

Main Tasks
Firstly, the mutual interest of the turbine owners in relation to electricity boards, authorities, manufacturers, etc. were to be taken care of.
Secondly, more serious information about the possibilities of wind power should be secured.
There was enough to get cracking on in both areas.
The 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.
It 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.

Information Strategy
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
maintenance coast as well as risks.
There 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:

  1. through approaches to newspapers, written contributions such as a letter to the editor on the subject, and
  2. 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.

The 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.
His 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 country.
There, 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.
Learned 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.
The 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!
This appeared to be the start signal to a fantastic evolution, first within agriculture and later the industries connected with it.
Changes 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.

The 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.
Later 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.
The 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.
It 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.

The 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.

Organisation and Taxation
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.
Even 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.
I 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.



Continued in Part 2...

| Home | Guided tour | FAQs | Quiz | Manufacturers | Publications | Pictures | News | Mailing List | Find | Links | About Us | Reference Manual | E-Mail | Map&Guide |
© Copyright 1997 Flemming Tranæs
Updated 6 August 2000