The European Commission is set to table an Emergency Regulation to simplify and accelerate the permitting of renewables projects. The Regulation would enact key measures initially set out in REPowerEU, Europe’s energy response to the war in Ukraine. The measures would bring clarity on binding permitting deadlines, make it easier to repower wind farms, and ensure renewables are presumed to be of overriding public interest.
The energy crisis resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a stark reminder that imported fossil fuels do not provide the reliable and affordable energy European businesses and families need.
Since last May the EU is negotiating on a new energy strategy to accelerate the deployment of home-grown renewables: “REPowerEU”. It spells out that renewables are at the core of Europe’s energy security strategy and proposes to raise the EU’s 2030 target for renewables from 40% to 45% of our total energy consumption. It also recognises the central role of wind energy: the EU wants 510 GW of wind energy by 2030, up from 190 GW today.
But slow and complex permitting is holding back renewables projects and dangerously delays the energy transition. For wind energy, the 510 GW target means that Europe needs to build 39 GW of new wind farms every year up to 2030. Not only is Europe not building enough, but orders for new turbines are stalling: they fell by 36% in Q3 2022 compared with Q3 2021. Europe urgently needs to solve permitting and strengthen its wind energy supply chain.
The standard legislative process takes time – it will take months before the simplification measures for permitting in the “REPowerEU Action Plan” are applied at national level. Wind farms can be built very quickly, so every month counts if we want to increase our energy security and avoid energy shortages next winter. The emergency regulation shall help unlocking projects currently stuck in the administrative pipeline waiting for their permits. In France for instance, 10 GW of renewable projects are currently hold back.
For this reason the Commission is proposing a set of emergency measures to simplify and accelerate permitting. Most of the measures come from the “REPowerEU Action Plan”. They benefit from broad political support. The emergency procedure means they can be implemented by the end of the year in all EU Member States.
The proposal confirms the two-year deadline for permitting new renewable projects, and clarifies its scope by including the grid connection permit and approval of the Environmental Impact Assessment. It also confirms the one-year deadline for permitting repowered projects and speeds up the grid connection for those projects that do not require new grid asset or grid reinforcement. It is essential to meet Europe’s climate objective as repowered projects are three times more powerful and generate 1.7 times the energy output of older projects.
The Emergency Regulation does not undermine EU environmental law. It states that renewable energy projects are to be presumed of overriding public interest to solve Europe’s energy crisis, as long as site location are rightfully selected, and mitigation measures are put in place. It also promotes a population-based approach to biodiversity protection that could mandate developers of renewable projects to implement mitigation measures beyond the location site to protect the whole endangered species population.
The measures will be valid for one year, but the Commission leaves open the possibility of extending their duration until the completion of the ongoing legislative negotiations on REPowerEU.
WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson said: “These emergency measures on renewables permitting are just what Europe needs. The IEA were clear last week. We might get through this winter. But next winter will be much tougher. We’ve got to build all the new renewables we can by then. That means emergency measures to tackle the biggest bottleneck which is red tape in permitting. And beyond next winter we’ve got to then keep building as much new renewables as possible to meet the new 2030 energy security targets.
Sure, REPowerEU already addresses permitting. But the measures it proposes that are now being finalised by Member States and the Parliament won’t come into force for 2 years. We need action now. The hard reality is we’re not building enough new renewables. The number of new wind turbines ordered this year is less than one half of what we should be building to meet the 2030 targets.
Will this undermine biodiversity? No, even with renewables being in the ‘overriding public interest’ wind farms developers will still have to mitigate any biodiversity impacts and protect the population levels of endangered species.”