European Commission issues recommendation to speed up permitting processes
The European Commission has issued a "Recommendation on speeding up permit-granting procedures for renewable energy projects and facilitating Power Purchase Agreements" (the Recommendation). The Recommendation builds on the Commission's May 2022 updated REPowerEU Plan, which identified that "Slow and complex permitting processes are a key obstacle" to delivering renewables at scale.
To address this issue, the Recommendation proposes ten steps:
- Faster and shorter procedures – the Commission outlines that renewable projects should qualify for the "most favourable procedure available" under Member States' planning systems, and that there should be a presumption that such projects are in the overriding public interest. The Commission indicates that Member States should establish binding maximum deadlines for all relevant stages of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) procedure, and also that simultaneous applications should be prioritized over sequential applications if different authorisations are required (including for related grid projects).
- Facilitating citizen and community participation – the Commission encourages Member States to ensure public participation, and take steps to pass the benefits of the renewable energy transition on to local communities, to enhance public acceptance and engagement.
- Improving internal coordination – the Recommendation proposes a "one-stop-shop" for granting permits for renewable energy projects required in the Renewable Energy Directive, to limit the number of authorities involved in the overall permitting process.
- Clear and digitised procedures – the Recommendation encourages fully digital permit-granting procedures and electronic communication. The Commission also indicates that information should be made available to project developers centrally as part of an online manual of procedures, including templates for applications, environmental studies and data, and information on options for public participation and administrative charges.
- Sufficient human resources and skills – the Commission emphasises the need for sufficient and adequate staffing, with relevant skills and qualifications, for permit-granting bodies and environmental assessment authorities.
- Better identification and planning of locations for projects – the Recommendation outlines that Member States should identify suitable land and sea areas for renewable energy projects. Further, it indicates that Member States should limit ‘exclusion zones’ (where renewable energy cannot be developed) to the necessary minimum. It also states that EIA requirements for renewable energy projects should be minimised as far as legally possible, and integrated with other environmental assessments (such as AA) in a joint procedure.
- Easier grid connection – the Commission proposes simplified procedures for repowering existing renewable energy plants, including streamlined procedures for environmental assessments, and the introduction of a simple-notification procedure for their grid connections where no significant negative environmental or social impact is expected. The Recommendation outlines that Member States should ensure that system operators (i) apply a transparent and digital procedure for grid connection applications; (ii) provide information on grid capacities; and (iii) optimise the use of grid capacity by allowing its use by power plants combining multiple complementary technologies.
- Innovative projects – the Recommendation encourages the introduction of "regulatory sandboxes" to grant targeted exemptions from the national, regional or local legislative or regulatory framework for innovative technologies. The Recommendation explains that a "regulatory sandbox" is a legal framework that allows for the testing, in a real-life environment, of innovative technologies, products, services or approaches, which are not fully compliant with the existing legal and regulatory framework. This concept is proposed to support innovation and facilitate the subsequent adaptation of the regulatory environment to accommodate such technologies.
- Facilitating power purchase agreements – the Recommendation provides that Member States should remove any unjustified administrative or market barriers to corporate purchase agreements of renewable energy.
- Monitoring, reporting and review – the Commission outlines that Member States should set up a contact point tasked with regularly monitoring the main bottlenecks in the permit-granting process and addressing the issues encountered by renewable energy project developers.
The Recommendation is timely particularly given the Irish Government's review of the planning system due in Q3 2022, and the imminent issue of the first Maritime Area Consents allowing Phase 1 Offshore Windfarm Projects to apply for development consent under the Maritime Area Planning Act 2021.
For more information in relation to this topic, please contact Alison Fanagan, Partner, Kristen Read, Senior Associate, Brendan Abley, Associate or any member of our Planning & Environmental Group.
Date published: 14 July 2022