EC publishes guidance document on ?Wind energy developments and Natura 2000?

The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) is pleased that the European Commission has released a document, “Wind energy developments and Natura 2000”, which provides clear guidance to national and regional authorities on how to ensure that the development of wind farm projects in Natura 2000 areas is compatible with the EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives.

The European Commission’s guidance document states that “appropriately sited and well designed wind power developments are generally not a threat to biodiversity”. Indeed, the guidance document highlights that: “if planned properly, modern wind energy activities can not only avoid impacting on wildlife but can also on occasion actively contribute to biodiversity conservation.”

EWEA emphasises that wind farm developers are today required to undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment before construction of a farm can start. In addition the EU’s Habitats Directive (Article 6) includes substantive safeguards that must be applied to wind farm projects deemed likely to have an adverse effect on a Natura 2000 site. Overall, wind power’s impact on birds, bats, other wildlife and natural habitats is extremely low compared with many other human-related activities.

Natura 2000 is an EU-wide ecological network of nearly 26,000 sites in the 27 EU countries which, according to the guidance document, “ensures that human activities – inter alia wind energy activities – are undertaken in a way that does not adversely affect the integrity of Natura 2000 sites.”

Janez Potoènik, European Commissioner for the Environment said: “These new guidelines will give Member States and industry clarity regarding the undertaking of wind energy development activities in accordance with Natura 2000 requirements. There is no change of legislation or policy, but merely guidance on existing law. Our aim is to ensure that renewable energy targets are met while fully respecting EU law on species protection."

The guidelines published are aimed at avoiding conflict between wind turbines development and biodiversity conservation in Natura 2000 protected areas. They highlight the importance of strategic planning and the need for good quality appropriate assessment of new developments. The guidelines contain examples of best practice, and show how wind energy developments can avoid damage to nature sensitive areas.

Europe has set itself a target of obtaining 20% of its energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020, and wind energy is destined to make a significant contribution to achieving that goal.
Wind energy also helps to substantially reduce greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions, as well as freshwater consumption associated with conventional power generation in the EU. Wind energy has grown rapidly over the last decade, and in 2009 it accounted for some 4.8% of the EU’s total electricity consumption. This is expected to at least triple by 2020.

Natura 2000 is an EU-wide ecological network of nearly 26 000 sites in the 27 EU countries, established under the 1992 Habitats Directive and covering almost 18% of the EU’s land area. The aim of the network is to assure the conservation and sustainable use of areas of high biodiversity value and long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats.

Natura 2000 is not a system of strict nature reserves where all human activities are excluded. Whereas the network will certainly include nature reserves, most of the land is likely to continue to be privately-owned and the emphasis will be on ensuring that future management is sustainable, both ecologically and economically.