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Proving Power of Renewables, Wind Making Dirty Fuels Obsolete in Northern Europe

In the face of increased renewable energy and lower electricity prices, Nordic coal- and gas-fired plants are shutting down

Windmills in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo: Danielle Bauer/flickr/cc)

The wind power boom in Nordic countries is making fossil fuel-fired power plants obsolete and is pushing electricity prices down, according to reporting by Reuters published Friday.

Power prices in Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden have dropped sharply as renewable energy floods the market, efficiency measures lower energy use overall, and growth remains stagnant, reporter Nerijus Adomaitis writes. This, in turn, will lead to the "mothballing" of 2,000 megawatts (MW) of coal capacity in Denmark and Finland over the next 15 years, a Norway-based consultant tells Adomaitis.

According to the article, "Pushing fossil-fueled power stations out of the Nordic generation park is part of government plans across the region."

It seems to be working. One gas-fired power plant in Norway was put in "cold reserve," or decommissioned, this January; a coal-fired power plant in Finland was shut down earlier this year; and Swedish-owned power company Vattenfall said in May it will shut down its coal-fired power plant in Denmark in May 2016.

Meanwhile, Denmark wants to phase out all coal use in power generation by 2030 and to generate all power and heat from renewables by 2035, Reuters reports. The country is well on its way: Wind power is expected to meet half consumption in Denmark by 2020, up from just over 33 percent in 2013.

In Sweden, where wind provides about 8 percent of total consumption, installed capacity has more than doubled to about 5,000 MW in 2014 from 2010—and that number is expected to reach 7,000 MW within three years.

Nordic countries are not alone in making this transition. Last month, the New York Times heralded Germany’s push to develop renewable sources of energy in the past few years.

Writing at Common Dreams, Joseph J. Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project in New York, said Germany's example was instructive: "For years, many have claimed that renewables were far too costly to ever be a major force in the energy mix," he said. "Germany’s transition proved otherwise. The largest, 60-story windmill cost $30 million; up to 500 of these matches the cost of a single new nuclear reactor. The program has been financed by a fee of just $280 per home per year (now being offset by declining electricity bills). Because of the large amount of wind and solar power now in place, per-unit costs are plunging—not just in Germany, but worldwide."

Mangano continued, "Germany’s energy future, highly dependent on safe renewable sources like wind and solar, will pay great dividends. Its people will see lower electric bills. Fewer will suffer from costly diseases like cancer. Effects of global warming will be slowed. The U.S. and other developed nations should observe the German effort and step up efforts to build an energy mix based largely on safe, renewable sources."

And now, perhaps, the Nordic effort too.

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