Permitting procedures & renewables deployment: how to overcome barriers?

Online debate in Brussels


Jerzy Buzek MEP, President of the EEF
Mechthild Wörsdörfer, Deputy Director-General for Energy, European Commission
Julio Castro, Director, Iberdrola Renewables – Southern Europe & CEO, Iberdrola Energy
Giles Dickson, CEO, WindEurope
Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO, SolarPower Europe
MEP Morten Helveg Petersen, Director of the EEF
MEP Ville Niinistö, Shadow Rapporteur on the revision of REDII
Pascale Verheust, Director General of the EEF

This Online Energy Debate offered an opportunity to discuss how to possibly overcome the main obstacles to the deployment of renewable energy, with a focus on permitting procedures. The topic was developed in light of the new developments in Ukraine which, as highlighted by the EEF President MEP Jerzy Buzek, have underlined the urgent need for the EU to become energy independent.

Mechthild Wörsdörfer, Deputy Director-General for Energy at the European Commission underlined how the current situation of high, extremely volatile energy prices and the urgent need to reduce dependency on Russian energy imports call for both exceptional measures of limited application and long-term ones. The recently adopted RePowerEU Communication aims to address the impact of high retail energy prices on consumers, diversify the gas suppliers and reduce the dependence on Russian gas by 2/3 by the end of this year. In the long-term, the best solution is to boost energy efficiency and foster renewables rollout, first by accelerating the work on the “Fit for 55” Package. Ms Wörsdörfer said she welcomes the current debate in the EP and the Council on increasing the renewables target from 40 to 45% by 2030 in RED III. The Commission is aware of permitting being one of the main barriers to renewables deployment: REPowerEU Europe already includes actions to further support the acceleration of permitting procedures and the Commission plans to adopt a set of additional recommendations in May.

Julio Castro, CEO Iberdrola Energy & Director Iberdrola Renewables – Southern Europe emphasized that renewables are the best answer to the current energy crisis. He sees three big constraints to the deployment of RES: permitting, high prices and people’s poor engagement. As for permitting, Mr. Castro explained the long waiting period for the finalization of the paperwork is the main issue: 2 to 4 years to get the permit vs 6 to 12 months only for the construction phase. To overcome the problem, he shared five ideas: outsourcing the environmental analysis; lengthening the validity of industrial permits; a 2-to-4-week deadline for the administrative authority to issue the industrial permit once the environmental one is granted; introducing new urban planning permits, prioritising mature projects. On high energy prices, he suggested decoupling gas from electricity and putting a cap on gas prices. Finally, governments and companies should promote awareness campaigns to enhance renewables social acceptance.

The debate continued with Giles Dickson, CEO of WindEurope. He stated that deploying 480 GW of wind energy by 2030, as asked by the Commission, is feasible but he agreed with Mr. Castro on permitting representing an enormous challenge. However, good practices do exist in some Member States that could act as a stimulus for the simplification and acceleration of permitting processes. These should be disseminated all over the EU and Mr. Dickson said he expects the upcoming Commission’s recommendations to do exactly so. Digitalisation of permit procedures is also key. Besides, Mr. Dickson proposed directing some part of EU funding to national permitting authorities, as their understaffing is a big issue. He finally shared suggestions on the revision of RED II: enforcing the 2-year deadline, designing a fast-track procedure for all RES projects, introducing a “positive silence” principle: the permitting is assumed to have been agreed if the authority hasn’t made a decision by the set deadline.

Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe, highlighted the great potential that solar power represents for the EU: it could deliver 39 GW by the end of this year and at least 670 GW by 2030. Yet the delivery of these volumes is hindered by a few obstacles. Access to land should be eased through the identification of go-to areas. Permitting should be streamlined by relying on the solutions proposed by Ms Hemetsberger’s colleague speakers as well as by monitoring the situations in the EU Member States: the monitoring mandate given to the Single Market enforcement task force is thus welcomed. Ms Hemetsberger remarked the importance of qualifying all RES projects as being of public interest and touched upon grid connection processes and related costs. Facilitating the connection of smart solar projects, disclosing more information on the grid structure to projects developers and requiring system operators to rely more on flexibility solutions could help overcome this bottleneck, alongside extraordinary measures such as freezing grid connection fees for 2022 to 2024.

EEF Director MEP Morten Helveg Petersen and MEP Ville Niinistö also participated in the discussion supporting the view that there is a general need to do more and faster. The “Fit for 55” Package has to look at higher targets and both MEPs welcomed the EP debate on increasing the RES target to 45% by 2030. They also welcomed the proposals coming from the speakers, the agreed on the need of digitalization and appreciated the “positive silence” principle. As for fast-tracking, they also stressed that it should involve all renewables projects equally, and not just some of them.

During the Q&A session, the debate addressed the relationship between red tape and environmental protection, with some remarks on the situation in Italy. Our speakers emphasized, once again, the necessity of accelerating the permitting processes through the imposition of strict deadlines and penalties in case of non-compliance by the administrative authorities. A division of the tasks among national, regional and municipal levels was also proposed.