April 13. 2024. 6:24

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It takes longer to permit a wind farm than to build it

Slow permit-granting processes are one of the biggest barriers standing in the way of reaching the EU’s 2030 renewables targets. Governments and policymakers must act boldly so that renewables deployment can ramp up as quickly as possible, writes Sandrine-Dixson-Declève.

After the shocking Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EU responded boldly with a plan to swiftly move away from Russian gas. The Energy Transitions Commission, which I represent in my role as European Ambassador, put forward an analysis highlighting the opportunities for Europe through an accelerated clean energy transition. Though the new targets are world-leading, red tape risks holding back progress.

The EU Commission recently announced plans to simplify and fast-track permitting for new clean-tech production sites to “make Europe the home of clean tech”. Along with addressing issues such as transmission and distribution, storage and intermittency, we have to fast-track planning and permitting for the speed and scale required to reach 2030 renewables targets. For EU countries, the proposed target is 45% renewable energy sources by 2030.

To meet this goal, the EU must also compete with attractive subsidies globally that are moving clean energy technology production and investment away from Europe. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed in the US in August 2022 created huge incentives through increased production tax credits for low-carbon energy, especially wind, solar, nuclear and hydrogen.

At Davos, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the new Green Deal Industrial Plan to accelerate progress towards EU clean energy targets and strengthen Europe’s industry. This sets Europe up to compete in the green technology race to the top. Talks continue across political corridors about the need for an equivalent IRA.

This ambition should set the stage for an opportune decade of just energy transitioning and renewable deployment in Europe. Which is well needed for a swifter transition away from Russian gas and other stranded fossil energy assets and a solution to energy poverty. This is a crucial moment to ensure a just transition for European citizens and create European green tech leadership.

However, continued long and burdensome project development times threaten this vision. In the EU, most countries are behind on solar permitting targets, and all countries are behind on onshore wind. Cumbersome and time-costly planning and permitting policies prevent rapid scale-up. It is one of the biggest barriers standing in the way of reaching the EU’s 2030 renewables targets. There is over 80 GW of wind projects stuck in permitting procedures across Europe as of the end of 2022.

The Energy Transitions Commission estimates that the world could miss out on up to 3,500 TWh of clean electricity generation from wind and solar in 2030 (a shortfall of over 20%) if key barriers to wind and solar deployment aren’t addressed.

The latest ETC insights briefing proposes that combined action from governments, wind and solar developers, and civil society, could more than halve the time needed for planning and permitting wind and solar projects -without compromising environmental, biodiversity, and social safeguards.

Bold action is needed

National and regional governments and policymakers bear the largest responsibility to boost industry attractiveness and drive accelerated renewables deployment. Governments can centrally prioritise renewable projects, set clear energy mix targets, and streamline permit approval processes.

Success stories from within the EU can be replicated across countries to simplify processes and reduce delays. For example, in Spain, the government is currently trialling “the rule of positive silence” until 2024. This solution has catapulted Spain’s solar projections to surpass 2030 targets. Alongside China, Spain is the only other country forecasted to exceed installed capacity consistent with a pathway to net-zero by mid-century.

The “rule of positive silence” automatically grants permits to solar PV projects under 150 MW and wind farms under 75 MW if no objection has been made against the application within 2 months and if the project meets a specific set of technical criteria. This rule alone could save an average of 2 years out of a 4-year development time for solar projects.

While in Denmark, the Danish Energy Agency is set up as a one-stop shop for offshore wind permitting. It offers a single comprehensive permit license to developers on behalf of 7 participating authorities, including the Ministry of Environment, Coastal Authority and Maritime Authority. This practical approach has resulted in a more efficient permitting process which helps developers move more quickly.

In the short term, governments should prioritise solutions such as increasing the land available for wind and solar projects, encouraging solar panel installations on all suitable public structures such as car parks and rooftops and ensuring sufficient staffing within permitting departments to dramatically reduce delays.

To meet EU renewable energy targets by 2030, renewables deployment must ramp up as quickly as possible. Governments and policymakers, in particular, must act boldly to drive progress to ensure the clean electricity scale-up is not derailed in the 2020s. Parts of Europe are already showing pathways forward but more must be done.

Slow planning, permitting, and land acquisition are some of the biggest barriers to the rapid scale-up of wind and solar capacity and must be addressed urgently to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century.