Henrik Linqvist looks like a giant boy. With crinkly eyes and a ready laugh, his sandy mop of hair looks like Daryl Hannah’s crazy do in ‘Blade Runner.’ He’s apparently about 6’6” when his hair is wet. All bets are off when it’s not.
He’s devoted his life to harnessing the power of wind in the Åland Islands. But we learned that slowly. Here on Åland only Swedish is spoken (Henrik’s English is fluent) and Swedish-speaking Finns are said to be more gregarious—stories still develop slowly—only as one asks.
Roger Norlund, his charming wife Gunila, Bruce and I climbed aboard Henrik’s small powerful boat and set off, bouncing jauntily on the mild chop. After about 20 minutes, we could see the Båtskär wind turbines. They seemed to float.
We landed on a somewhat mysterious island. A strange concrete tower had become only a home for hundreds of birds. Dwarfed beside the graceful turbine, it was once part of an iron-mining scheme with tunnels out under the water.
But how clever was Henrik? With the help of his ‘mentors’—don’t you love it when people honor mentors?—he’d found that this small group of islands had the best wind profile AND was an adaptive re-use. The failed mining operation and old ship pilots’ house removed the defense of ‘unspoiled nature.’
Nevertheless, Henrik and Roger (who is Speaker of the Åland Parliament) fought for SIX YEARS to get the first turbine up. Its base gradated in shades of blue like the water around it, the immense sculpture spins silently before us. Every several minutes or when needed, it whirs softly as it adjusts to the wind’s direction. Phenomenal and beautiful.
Bruce and Roger gear up for the climb and light out. (I have stupidly worn a skirt and the harness looks less than comfy.) Henrik, Gunila and I poke around among the wildflowers,study the lichen-covered stone marker of some Swedish king in the 1700’s and other relics. The pilot house might make an exotic inn for the summer months—six bedrooms and a sauna (of course) but winter and distance say no. Gunila and I shake our heads sadly.
A bird-counting biologist and his son are doing the annual summer check,staying overnight in the house. He reports that of the several hundreds that nest on this island, between one and three birds per year are injured by the six turbines and notes wryly that more than 20 fly every season into the windows of his summer cottage not far away.
Henrik has named the six turbines after old sailing ships. They are each 2.3 megawatt capacity and producing an average of 7500 MWh per year. According to Henrik, “7500 MWh is equal to 300 households with direct electrical heating, 580 households with heatpump (like my household) or 1250 households with oil heating here in Åland.” That’s per turbine! In addition,an American firm (Intertek) is testing a small Chinese turbine on the island.
As we speed away, Henrik points out a pre-fab hut perched precariously on the rocks of an island some kilometers away. He explains casually that a neighbor built the house in order to resist the wind project. I turn and realize that the hut’s one small window is squared against the now tiny mills on the horizon. The silhouette of the abandoned mining tower absorbs the light.
Lunch on the lovely island of Rodhamn was home-cooked by a young family who come every summer to open the boathouse as a restaurant. Henrik shows us a photo of his grandmother, another mentor, who summered alone on a adjacent island, hauling her own water into her eighties. I’m intrigued by the tradition of rock labyrinths constructed by sailors marking time until the weather opened the sea.
Henrik’s company provides almost 24% of the electricity in the Åland Islands with 21 turbines and is turning an excellent profit. He has many more plans.
A visionary businessman makes for a helluva good hero, don’t you think?
Cody Douglas Oreck