Reindeer herders say they will sue to halt Norway’s largest wind farm

The herders say the project hinders migration between summer and winter grazing areas.

A 70 meter long wing of a wind turbine is seen on its way to the Guleslettene wind park near Floro, Norway June 17, 2020. (Tore Meek / NTB Scanpix via Reuters)

A group of Sámi reindeer herders in Norway say they intend to seek legal action against the owners of what is to be that country’s largest wind farm for violating their rights by hindering reindeer migration between winter and summer feeding grounds.

The announcement on Friday from the herders of the Jillen-Njaarke district in Nordland County, with the backing of Motvind, a Norwegian anti-wind-power group, comes amid increasing tensions with Eolus, the Swedish-German owner of the Øyfjellet project.

Eolus, which was granted permission in 2016 to erect 72 turbines across an area measuring 40 square kilometers, was cleared in December to begin construction, provided the firm could reach an agreement by March 11 with reindeer herders that would allow passage of their 2,000 reindeer this past spring as they migrated the 12 kilometers to their spring grazing areas.

That has not happened, according to the herders, who also complain that Eolus violated the terms of its agreement with the Norwegian state granting it permission to build the wind farm when it failed to stop construction of a 11-kilometer access road passing through a migration route to let reindeer pass this spring.

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According to Eolus’ version of events, the herders were initially told that construction would be halted between April 10 and 16, in connection a series of public holidays. When the herd had not migrated past by that point, Eolus was given permission by regulators to resume work.

When the firm was informed on April 27 that the reindeer were ready to move through, construction was stopped that evening, and resumed again on the evening of April 29, after the main herd had passed through.

The herders say being told when and how much time they have to move their animals is a violation of their rights. Their complaint is supported by county officials, who told regulators that migrations are determined by weather and grazing conditions, and that they could not be planned ahead of time.

The herders demand that construction of the wind farm stop immediately and that plans for the wind farm be canceled.

Due to come on-line in 2021, the Øyfjellet wind farm would produce energy for a nearby Alcoa aluminium smelter, which has pledged to purchase all of the power it produces for a period of 15 years.

A crowdfunding campaign launched on Sunday to raise funds for a lawsuit was more than 90 percent towards meeting its goal of 500,000 kroner on Tuesday. Motvind, however, reckoned it would need 10 million kroner to cover legal fees and to be able to pay any compensation, should it wind up losing.

The threatened lawsuit comes after repeated attempts, most recently in June, between Eolus and the herders to reach an agreement that would allow them access or secure them compensation.

According to Eolus, the herders are the last of about a hundred groups affected by the wind farm that it has not reached an agreement with regarding access.

The herders say the burden of coming up with a viable agreement remains with Eolus.

“[Eolus] admitted they didn’t see a solution. To that I would say that the project owner has the responsibility to come up with a solution, not us,” Torstein Appfjell, a spokesperson for the Jillen-Njaarke herders, told NRK.

Earlier this year, a group of herders in Trøndelag were awarded 90 million kroner in compensation when they lost access to their grazing areas entirely due to construction of a wind farm. Appfjell, however, also underscored that Jillen-Njaarke herders said the point of their suit to prove that setting conditions on when their reindeer could pass through the wind farm violated their constitutional rights.