To celebrate its 30-year anniversary, Finnish Wind Power Association is publishing a series of Blog articles where various wind power professionals are looking back to how things evolved in Finnish wind business and in the Association. This is an English translation of the fourth part covering the years 1997 to 1999. The original Blog (in Finnish) is published at http://tuulivoima30.fi/
After mid-1990s, the worst years of the all-time recession were over in Finland and companies gradually got back their trust in a better future. The Finnish wind power industry also began to gain momentum, and the promising progress continued towards the turn of the millennium. In the Wind Power Association, the workload was mainly carried by the association’s board of directors – for which it was sometimes difficult to fill up the seats in the Board.
Esa Holttinen, who has made his entire career within wind business and who at that time was a Development Manager at Pöyry, recalls the end of 1990s as the first real upswing in Finnish wind power construction. The energy investment support scheme of the Ministry of Trade and Industry (KTM), which entered into force in February 1996, encouraged the construction of wind power projects with a 40% investment aid. Thanks to this, it became feasible to invest in the wind sector, and wind turbines finally began to pop up in different parts of the country after the preceding silent years.
Spatial planning processes and MW-size turbines
Holttinen regards the spatial planning processes carried out by Regional Councils during the mid- and late 1990s as an essential foundation for the future wind power development in Finland.
“Pöyry prepared a number of wind power related background studies for regional plans, in those years especially for regional councils of Northern Ostrobothnia and Lapland. The study results ended up as site reservations for wind farms in the regional plans, and indeed many of the wind projects that were built in Northern Finland were built on those sites. Still after a number of years, new wind farms continued to be built in locations shown in these early studies”, Holttinen says.
Wind power technology developed rapidly during the decade, and in 1999 the first MW-class wind turbines were built in Finland. They were installed in Reposaari, Pori, for a wind farm consisting of eight 1.0 MW turbines. At that time, the project was not only the largest in Finland, but possibly also one of the fastest-built.
“It is interesting how much faster the project cycle was back then. For example, feasibility studies of the Reposaari wind farm were conducted during spring 1998, the project company Suomen Hyötytuuli Oy was established in the same summer, and the Turbine Purchase Agreement was signed in December. The inauguration of the park was celebrated in July 1999 in connection with Pori Jazz festival. Everything, including the entire permitting process, was completed in a little more than one year. Things looked pretty much easier those days”, Holttinen laughs.
Overall, things went ahead quite quickly in 1999, and Finland’s installed wind power capacity doubled in one year. Megawatt-class wind turbines were built that year in Pori, Kotka, Oulunsalo and Uusikaupunki. A total of 23 new wind turbines were installed. Unfortunately however, after a record year, the construction stopped due to lack of political will.
Development stumbles into a policy change
“At the end of the 1990s, the wind power sector was on a promising growth track, but alas, the prospects for continued growth were lost in politics. In 2000, the investment grants were cut from the 40% level to 25%. This was just enough to destroy the financial feasibility of investments, and that was the end of story. It was particularly annoying since the energy companies were busy surveying sites and investment opportunities all over Finland. All those plans were now frozen, and we missed the first real opportunity for growth in the wind industry”, says Holttinen.
According to Holttinen, the support cut was an easy choice for the politicians because they were lacking faith in wind power. “Wind power wasn’t taken seriously yet. Its potential was belittled and, on the other hand, its negative impacts exaggerated. We heard, among other things, allegations that 10 percent of wind power in the power mix would equal to having the entire coast full of wind turbines – one for every 100 meters”, Holttinen laughs.
The consequences of a short-term support policy were regrettable for the wind power sector, as the domestic market did not take off after the promising start. Over the following three years, only one new wind turbine was installed. “If the upswing of the late 1990s would have continued, the growth seen in the 2010s could have taken place at least five years earlier. The national target of 500 MW by 2010 would have been easily achievable in this case”, Holttinen sums up. At the end, the target was missed by hundreds of megawatts.
Holttinen says at that time the Association worked hard to get more political weight. “The association was often not heard, and its messages did not have much impact on political arenas. You had to get your messages through by using other channels, for example research institutes and big companies. We worked hard to raise the profile of the Association in order to highlight its status as a trustworthy expert organization.”
The Finnish wind power technology expertise was strong already in the 1990s. Gear boxes, generators, tower elements and blade materials etc. were imported from Finland. Despite of the miniature home market, the component suppliers were able to maintain their share of the world market. For wind turbines installed in Finland, the investors often sought to source as many Finnish components as possible, and some of the projects achieved a remarkable level of local content. Finnish technology created back then lives and breathes even today.
Kemijoki Arctic Technology was one such example with its blade heating system. “They had a concrete business plan for building wind power in Lapland, but in a business restructuring the wind power construction activities were transferred from Kemijoki to Fortum. Fortum’s construction plans, however, dried up, and so did the commercialization of the blade heating technology”, Holttinen recalls. But today, a start-up company Wicetec continues to finetune and sell the blade heating technology jointly developed by Kemijoki and VTT back in the 1990s, and this technology is now used in many parts of the world.
Co-operation between companies active in wind business was a major driver in the industry back then and, in order to better engage and better utilize their know-how, the Association founded a discussion forum for the companies, open for members and non-members alike. “There was a clear need among industrial companies and energy producers for closer cooperation and improving their knowledge base. At the same time, the Association was keen to find out ways to better serve its existing member companies and get new ones”, says Holttinen who coordinated the network.
International networking – a key driver
The members of the Association’s Board of Directors actively participated in international wind events, as it was considered crucial for the industry to introduce a broader perspective in the Finnish energy debate. The Association did a great deal of work to educate Finnish policy makers and businesses of the goals and building pace of wind power in other European countries.
“Finnish energy policy was relatively isolated those days. It was extremely important to point out to other countries to prove that wind power is not just some local whim of the Association; on the contrary it’s being built throughout the world in increasing volumes, and other countries have ambitious political targets for wind”, Holttinen sums up.
Important news from overseas were brought to Finland of the market growth surpassing all expectations; the European Wind Power Association EWEA, for example, had to repeatedly upgrade its market forecasts as previous forecasts were surpassed time after time.
If forecasting of international market figures was difficult, it has not been any easier to foretell the growth of domestic wind power in the long run. Holttinen remembers having said in several occasions that his own career would certainly be completed by the day 10 percent of Finnish electricity is produced by wind power. “We will reach the 10% share quite soon, but my retirement can still wait”, Holttinen laughs.
Esa Holttinen has made almost his entire career, starting early 1990s, in wind business. He has acted e.g. as the developer and coordinator of Pöyry Group’s international wind energy business and as the launcher and leader of the wpd Group’s business in Finland. Today Esa is running his own consulting firm Recognis Oy. In the Finnish Wind Power Association, Esa has been active through years and decades as a member of the Board, in committees and working groups, and in the editorial board of the Association’s magazine.