Sweden forges energy links with Michigan

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm hopes her upcoming trade trip to Sweden will help the state tap into Sweden's efforts to meet its energy needs entirely with renewable fuels by 2020.

“Sweden is a world leader in alternative energy,” Granholm said Tuesday during a news conference during which she discussed the weeklong trip to Sweden and Germany that begins Saturday.

Going along for the trip to Sweden are researchers from Michigan Technological University and Michigan State University. Several of Michigan State’s and Michigan Tech’s bioenergy experts traveled to Sweden Tuesday, as did state forester Donna LaCourt from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The Michigan State faculty members, who will keep an online travel log during their trip, are looking for ways they can work closely with Swedish scientists and entrepreneurs to create new products and processes involving biotechnology.

One of the Michigan State officials in Sweden is Steve Pueppke, director of the university’s Office of Biobased Technologies, who’s also involved with the Great Lakes BioEnergy Research Center, one of three federally funded centers set up to develop new ways of turning switchgrass, poplar trees and other plants into fuel.

Besides focusing on bioenergy, Granholm plans to meet with Swedish companies involved in the automotive sector, tooling, biotechnology and neurological drug development while she’s there.

Nearly 50 Swedish companies currently employ more than 6,000 workers in Michigan, according to the governor’s office.


Sweden to stop local governments blocking wind parks in final stages

Sweden's government has proposed a new law which will remove local municipalities' power to block wind parks in the final stages of the planning process, as part of a four-point plan to speed up the expansion of wind power.

Sweden to stop local governments blocking wind parks in final stages

“We are doing this to meet the increased need for electricity which is going to come as a result of our green industrial revolution,” Strandhäll said at a press conference. 

“It is important to strengthen Sweden by rapidly breaking our dependence on fossil fuels, building out our energy production and restructuring our industry. The Swedish people should not be dependent on countries like Russia to drive their cars or warm their homes.”

“We are going to make sure that municipalities who say “yes” to wind power get increased benefits,” she added in a press statement. “In addition, we are going to increase the speed with which wind power is built far offshore, which can generally neither be seen or heard from land.” 

While municipalities will retain a veto over wind power projects on their territory under the proposed new law, they will have to take their decision earlier in the planning process to prevent wind power developers wasting time and effort obtaining approvals only for the local government to block projects at the final stags. 

“For the local area, it’s mostly about making sure that those who feel that new wind parks noticeably affect their living environment also feel that they see positive impacts on their surroundings as a result of their establishment,” Strandhäll said.  “That might be a new sports field, an improved community hall, or other measures that might make live easier and better in places where wind power is established.” 

According to a report from the Swedish Energy Agency, about half of the wind projects planned since 2014 have managed to get approval. But in recent years opposition has been growing, with the opposition Moderate, Swedish Democrats, and Christian Democrat parties increasingly opposing projects at a municipal level. 

Municipalities frequently block wind park projects right at the end of the planning process following grassroots local campaigns. 

The government a month ago sent a committee report, or remiss, to the Council on Legislation, asking them to develop a law which will limit municipal vetoes to the early stages of the planning process. 

At the same time, the government is launching two inquiries. 

The first will look into what incentives could be given to municipalities to encourage them to allow wind farms on their land, which will deliver its recommendations at the end of March next year. In March, Strandhäll said that municipalities which approve wind farm projects should be given economic incentives to encourage them to accept projects on their land. 

The second will look into how to give the government more power over the approvals process for wind projects under Sweden’s environmental code. This will deliver its recommendations at the end of June next year.