A local referendum on wind power will be held for the first time in Sweden on 20 March. Around 2,000 voters in Sorsele municipality in Lapland will say yes or no to new wind farms in the municipality.
The background to the referendum in Sweden's second smallest municipality in terms of population, but eleventh largest in terms of area, is that Vattenfall wants to build Sandselehöjderna – a wind farm consisting of a maximum of 100 turbines in a forest area.
According to the plan, a majority of the turbines will be located in Sorsele municipality, the rest – some 15 turbines – will be located in the neighbouring municipality of Storuman.
Application awaiting judgement
The Project Manager for Sandselehöjderna, Daniel Gustafsson, explains that Vattenfall applied for an environmental permit for the wind farm in 2015.
"The application is now with the county administrative board in Västerbotten awaiting a recommendation or a rejection from Sorsele municipality. We have to have a recommendation from the municipality to be able to proceed with the project."
In the referendum, the residents will not be specifically voting for or against Sandselehöjderna, but will rather be taking a position on whether new wind farms should be established in the municipality or not.
"The referendum is consultative. In principle, the municipality can issue permits independently, but if there is a high election turnout and a solid no, the politicians can hardly disregard the outcome," says Gustafsson, who is hoping that a lot of people will turn out on 20 March.
"We think that a high turnout will be positive for us."
Wind power is nothing new for Sorsele municipality. Vattenfall is currently completing Juktan, with nine turbines, in the municipality, and the wind farm will be inaugurated later this year.
So why is a referendum being held this time?
"We have a very complex conflict-of-interest situation in the municipality when it comes to Sandselehöjderna. We have signed a land agreement with state-owned Sveaskog and with 58 private property owners in the area. Two of the private land owners are leading politicians in the municipality and, in turn, they have families who also own land in the area," Gustafsson explains.
What will happen to the project if the referendum says no?
"Nothing at first. But if it results in the municipality using its veto then we will not be able to proceed."
What has the forthcoming referendum entailed for those of you who are working with Sandselehöjderna?
"The project has been delayed somewhat. It has also meant that we have been involved in considerably more dialogue than we would otherwise have done in this phase of a project. For example, we have already held meetings with local businesses to discuss job opportunities and procurement. We have also come further in the discussions on local support with a signed agreement with the local association for the SEK 10,000 per wind turbine and year if the wind farm is built," l Gustafsson explains.
A few days before the referendum, it is not clear what the public opinion is, but the unusual situation is attracting a lot of attention. Daniel Gustafsson recently took part in a debate on Sandselehöjderna which was broadcast online by a television network.
"It is going to be very exciting to see the result, irrespective of what it is."