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Published on October 19th, 2008 | by Gavin Hudson

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The Woman Steering Denmark’s Alternative Energy Success

This article is part of EcoWorldly’s week-long spotlight on Politicians You Can Believe In. To read more, subscribe to our RSS feed, or scroll through our recent posts.

Denmark windmills and Connie HedegaardConnie Hedegaard is a Danish blogger, journalist, and politician. She serves as Minister of Climate and Energy in Denmark, one of the countries leading the world in forward-thinking renewable energy policies.

Denmark benefits as alternative energy leader

Denmark is an exemplar of successful sustainable energy policy. Today, around 20% of Denmark’s energy is supplied by wind power. Not only is the country energy independent, its energy consumption hasn’t risen since the ’70s, despite 50% economic growth, according to Flemming Hansen, former Minister of Transport and Energy.

Economy: The development of a renewable energy infrastructure has been good news for the Danish economy. While the United States under the Bush administration made pusillanimous noises about how Kyoto-type commitments to alternative energy might harm the economy, Denmark moved ahead. Today, it’s reaping the economic benefits. Around half of of the world’s wind turbines are produced in Denmark; international turbine sales have become an important source of the country’s export revenue.

Employment: Jobs in the wind power industry rose from 2,900 in 1991 to over 21,000 by 2002. Because windmills are best suited to open countryside, these jobs hold the greatest benefit for rural communities. Moreover, Danes make money as stakeholders in the wind farms. 75% of Denmark’s wind turbines are owned cooperatively and around 150,000 Danes own shares. Not surprisingly, 86% of Danes are in favor of wind power.

Additionally, Denmark is investigating an electric car infrastructure. This would have the dual benefit of reducing pollution and storing energy at times when wind supplies produce an excess.

Connie Hedegaard and Danish energy success

Since 2007, Connie Hedegaard has been behind Denmark’s energy successes. In April, she signed an action plan with India on renewable energy. One notable achievement was her role in introducing Denmark’s Energy Policy 2008-2011. The policy made her country the first in the world to commit to an overall energy reduction, not just a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It includes the following language.

  • Energy Savings: A target of 2% reduction of total energy use from 2006 levels by 2011, and 4% by 2020.
  • Renewable Energy: Increased biomass/waste and wind energy and provide large, annual subsidies for solar and wave energy. Regarding wind power, plans include support for two 200 MW offshore wind farms that are scheduled to begin energy production in 2012. Additionally, money has been set aside for informational and labeling campaigns aimed at replacing oil-fired furnaces with heat pumps.
  • Energy taxes: Higher taxes on CO2 emitters, as well as a new tax on emitters of nitrogen oxide (NOx).
  • Energy technology: Doubled funding for energy technology R&D.
  • Transport: Extended the electric vehicle tax exemption to 2012 and introduced a tax exemption for hydrogen vehicles. Planned a tests scheme for electric vehicles. Set the goal to use 5.75% biofuels for all land transit by 2010 and 10% by 2020, in line with EU targets.

Who is Connie Hedegaard?

Connie Hedegaard holds an MA in Literature and History. She has been active in government on and off since 1984, when she was elected for six years to the Folketinget, the Danish national parliament.

In 1990, she departed from politics to pursue a career in journalism. Over the next 14 years, she worked as a journalist at the newspaper Berlingske Tidende, acted the Director of Radio News, and was anchorwoman on Deadline, a Danish news program.

Diving back into politics in 2004, she became Minister of the Environment. A year later, she was elected Minister for Nordic Cooperation. In the November 2007 general election, she was chosen as Minister for Climate and Energy.

In May of 2008, she told Denmark, “Sustainable economic growth is an attainable objective. The Nordic Region has made great progress with solutions based on environmental technology, and some day it will be possible to stockpile energy generated from renewable sources such as windmills, and to run vehicles purely on excess energy.”

It might surprise American readers to know that renewable energy champion Connie Hedegaard is politically conservative by Danish standards, which could be considered slightly to the left of mainstream Europe. In school, she was Chairwoman of the Danish Association of Conservative Students. Today, at 48, she is a member of the Conservative People’s Party.

Her current work includes preparing for the UN Environment Summit in Copenhagen in 2009.

Sources: Information on Danish renewable energy 1970-today from the Danish Energy Strategy 2025; wind energy jobs statistics from the European Wind Energy Association [PDF]; wind turbine production and export information from VisitDenmark and the CIA World Factbook; details of Connie Hedegaard’s career from the Minister of Climate and Energy website.

Photo credit: Government of Denmark, Fact Sheet Energy Policy 2008-2011 [PDF].

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About the Author

Gavin blogs from Zurich, Switzerland. His day job is Digital Media Communications Manager for ABB. Previously, he lived and worked in South Korea, blogging, editing and freelance writing for Green Options and PV Magazine. Gavin's favorite environmental work has included: co-founding the grassroots Nature Conservation Club at about age 8; interning for the Jane Goodall Insitute's Roots & Shoots (R&S) program; representing R&S at the World Social Forum VI in Caracas, Venezuela; volunteering at the Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito; being a research assistant for a CAL lab studying climate change in Colorado; bicycling lots.



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