COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- The Danish government is pushing ahead with one of Europe's most ambitious alternative-energy projects, a program that would make Denmark the first country to use wind power as a significant contributor to its national electricity grid.
In a report in February, the Danish Environment Ministry set out a planning procedure for building additional windmills either in clustered parks or as individual free-standing units, bringing municipal governments into the decision-making process for the first time.
The report removed a major obstacle to further large-scale development of what is already Europe's biggest exploitation of wind energy.
Only California has installed greater wind-power capacity.
"The report leads us to believe another 1,000 megawatts can easily be installed," said Per Krogsgaard, a partner in a Danish energy consulting firm, BTM Consult, near the western town of Ringkoebing.
"It is a good decision," added Finn Godtfredsen, responsible for wind-power development at the Danish Energy Agency in Copenhagen.
The country is in the final stages of an initial expansion that will raise wind-power capacity to 500 megawatts by the end of next year. A tripling of this amount would enable Denmark to cover nearly 10 percent of its electricity requirements through wind energy, Mr. Godtfredsen said.
And if the country's environmentalists have their way, Denmark's windmills could be producing close to 3,000 megawatts of power by the third decade of the next century, according to a series of longer-range scenarios developed by the Danish Energy Agency.
While Denmark's capacity is less than one-third of that installed in California (together, the two produce more than 90 percent of the globe's wind-generated electricity), Denmark's far longer history of windmill development -- and the pressures of working on a landmass one-tenth the size of California -- have helped make the country a global leader in wind-power technology.
Mr. Krogsgaard estimates, for example, that about half the 15,650 windmills now installed in California were produced in Denmark.
For a nation of 5 million people, whose prosperity is based mainly on their ability to export high-quality farm products and upscale consumer goods such as down comforters and expensive domestic furniture, such expertise in a sophisticated medium-tech field is unusual.
Danish consultants and windmills also operate in several less developed countries, including both India and China.
"We started early and had a good, rugged, heavy design," Mr. Krogsgaard said.
He predicted that the rising costs of fossil fuel will make wind power increasingly attractive, especially to the less-developed nations of Africa and Asia.
"It's clean, it's flexible and easy to handle," he said. "By the year 2000, this will be a multibillion-dollar market."
Small wind-power programs have been started in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Greece, Spain and Italy.
Weather conditions are the main reason for Denmark's long history with wind power. Together with much of Scotland and the western coastal regions of Ireland, Denmark's large Jutland Peninsula "enjoys" Europe's strongest winds.
Lacking any significant domestic coal reserves, Denmark met the majority of its energy needs with wind until the latter part of the 19th century.
In the 1890s, Danish scientists became the first to research ways of harnessing wind energy for industrial electrification, but their efforts were later eclipsed by the availability of cheap oil. The country's interest in wind power was reawakened only with the oil crisis of the 1970s.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, a series of wind farms were built, mainly along the coastal areas, using clusters of small windmills of 55 to 100 kilowatts.
To cut the environmental damage that large clusters of windmills inflict on the landscape, Danish scientists and the country's leading windmill manufacturers are working to develop larger mills that can produce electricity competitively.
An experimental 2-megawatt windmill was built in the late 1980s near Esbjerg. Mr. Godtfredsen said he expects 1-megawatt windmills to go into series production within two years, although he added that for now, far smaller, 250-kilowatt mills remain the most economic.
In the further expansion of wind power, he said, the goal would be to build small clusters of larger mills in order to reduce the visual blight.
Partly for environmental reasons, the Danes have built the world's first offshore wind farm, a group of eleven 450-kilowatt mills about 90 miles southwest of Copenhagen that officials say produce about 60 percent more electricity than their counter parts on land because of more favorable wind conditions at sea.
Although construction costs are higher than on land, the environmental impact is said to be far less.
Mr. Godtfredsen said that, on the average, wind-generated electricity remains 25 percent to 50 percent more expensive than that produced from coal. But he said the costs have declined sharply in the past decade and are likely to drop further in the future.
"It's just a matter of time before the costs even out," he predicted.