Sep 21

Europe’s Wind Permitting Process Needs to Pick Up Speed

Stephen Bierman
Feb 2, 2022
wind permitting
Image: Denny Müller via Unsplash

The European Union needs a speedier permitting process for wind projects, just as much as it needs wind speed to generate power.

The bloc risks missing targets for renewables generation growth without a more efficient permitting processes. This is important because renewables growth expectations are becoming a keystone of European energy plans.

Italy’s wind auction earlier this week highlighted these concerns. The auction was undersubscribed as a result of “messy permitting,” according to industry lobby WindEurope.  

“Italy is Europe’s prime example for how bad permitting leads to low renewables build-out,” said WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson. “Neither the EU’s renewables target for 2030 nor Italy’s national targets for wind energy count for anything if there aren’t enough permitted projects that can bid in to the auctions.”

Wind and solar have shown impressive growth rates over the past decade. Yet both have hit headwinds recently due to higher commodities prices and supply chain disruptions. In the short term, the industry may have troubles with cost reduction that has previously driven growth. This is something legislators need to address.

The EU is already seeing higher power prices as domestic natural gas output declines, carbon prices rise, Germany shutters nuclear power and regulation moves against coal use. And existing wind generation will also be strained by expected periods of idle wind.

Efficient permitting is key to bridging the gap between theoretical and real power generation.

Italy’s latest renewables auction offered 3300 megawatts (MW), including non-awarded capacity from previous auctions. It only awarded 975 MW of utility-scale projects, of which 392 MW were for onshore wind. The lack of permitted projects led to the auction falling short of its offering, according to WindEurope.

At least one auction participant also weighed in.

“In line with the positive signals coming from Italy’s Simplification Decree ‘Bis’ published last year, there is a continued urgency to put in place concrete measures to guarantee certainty and reduce the time required for authorisation procedures, with full harmonisation of local and central legislation on Italy’s decarbonisation objectives,” Salvatore Bernabei, head of Enel Green Power, said following the auction.

Getting a permit for an onshore wind farm now takes an average of five years due to structural bottlenecks, according to WindEurope.

The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive requires member states to grant permits for new greenfield wind energy projects within two years. For repowering projects, this should take no longer than one year.

Italy might mark one end of the spectrum for difficulty in permitting, but Wind Europe says all of Europe has the same problem. Many countries are struggling to meet the new norms.

Yet the issue doesn’t seem unsolvable.

Permitting authorities need more staff, a clarification of responsibilities between different arms, more digital procedures and an overall improvement in spatial planning, according to WindEurope.

Developers need flexibility in technology requirements. Technology mentioned in original applications often becomes outdated during the permitting process.

The stakes are only getting higher for Europe, as much of its green transition seeks to disqualify other fuel sources. The long-term environmental merits of these moves appear evident and aren’t a subject of debate.

The EU needs to get its legislation right in order to reach its environmental goals. Good intentions will not be enough as member states increasingly rely on greater renewables generation.

Stephen Bierman

Stephen Bierman is a finance and energy reporter with over 15 years of experience, including at Bloomberg News and Energy Intelligence.

Tweets at: @StephenBierman1

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