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EU to speed up permitting process for renewable energy projects

EU energy ministers yesterday agreed on the content of a Council regulation laying down a temporary framework to accelerate the permit-granting process and the deployment of renewable energy projects. The regulation will introduce urgent and targeted measures that address specific technologies and types of projects, which have the highest potential for quick deployment and the least impact on the environment.

Jozef Síkela, Czech minister of Industry and Trade yesterday said:

We have taken yet another step to fight high energy prices, improve our security of energy supply and reduce our dependence on Russian energy sources. More renewables in our grids will help us reduce our demand for fossil fuels and drive down energy bills. With these rules we will speed up permitting processes that are often too lengthy and cumbersome.

The new temporary will rules set maximum deadlines for granting permits for solar energy equipment, upgrading existing renewable power plants (repowering) and the deployment of heat pumps. In addition, they will introduce a presumption of overriding public interest for renewable energy projects.

Solar energy equipment

Member states agreed that the permit-granting process would not exceed three months. Under certain circumstances, solar energy projects on existing artificial structures will be derogated from the requirement to carry out a dedicated environmental impact assessment. The installation of solar energy equipment of capacity up to 50 kW, including for renewable people who produce solar energy for their own consumption, will benefit from a tacit agreement after one month from their application, provided there are no issues of grid safety, stability and reliability.

Repowering of renewable energy power plants

The Council agreed on a maximum deadline of six months for the permit-granting process for repowering projects including all relevant environmental assessments. Where repowering results in an increase of up to 15 % in the capacity of the power plant, grid connections will be permitted within three months.

Heat pumps

Member states agreed on a deadline of one month for the installation of heat pumps below 50MW and three months in case of ground source heat pumps. For certain categories of heat pumps, grid connections to the transmission or distribution grid shall be permitted following notification. Member states may exclude certain areas or structures for reasons related to the protection of cultural heritage, national defence interests or safety.

Overriding public interest

The Council agreed that the planning, construction and operation of plants and installations for the production of renewable energy is presumed to be in the overriding public interest. This will allow such projects to benefit from a simplified assessment for a number of environmental obligations included in specific EU directives. Member states added a possibility to restrict the application of these provisions to certain parts of their territory, types of technologies or projects.

The Council agreed that the time during which the plants, their grid connections and the related necessary grid infrastructure are being built or repowered should not be counted within these deadlines. It also clarified that member states would be allowed to further shorten the deadlines of the permit-granting process.

The Council agreed to give the possibility for member states to apply the faster permitting rules for ongoing permit requests.

The regulation will be valid for 18 months after which the Commission will review whether it is appropriate to extend it.

Background and next steps

The Regulation is to be formally adopted by the Council, together with an agreement on the proposal for a market correction mechanism at the next extraordinary energy Council.

The Commission presented its proposal on 9 November under article 122 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, designed for emergency situations. The proposal followed up on the European Council conclusions of 20 and 21 October 2022, which called for fast-tracking and simplifying permitting procedures in order to accelerate the rollout of renewables. It also built on REPowerEU presented by the Commission on 18 May 2022.

The proposal mirrors the provisions agreed in the Council’s general approach on the proposal to review the renewable energy directive currently being discussed between the Parliament and the Council. It aims to accelerate the permitting for renewables in the short term and in a temporary manner until the provisions of the renewable energy directive come into force.

Energy from renewable sources can reduce the EU's demand for fossil fuels and thanks to their low operational costs, more renewables in the EU's energy system can lower energy prices. However lengthy and complex administrative procedures are often an obstacle to the speed and scale of investment in renewables and related infrastructure.

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