In response to energy crisis, EU Parliament backs plan to accelerate renewables permitting

Pictured: Co-located wind and solar in Denmark

The proposal was tabled by the European Commission on 18 May as part of the REpowerEU package, which seeks to end Europe’s reliance on Russian fossil fuel imports following its military aggression in Ukraine.

MEPs approved amendments to the final text, with 407 votes in favour, 34 against, and 181 abstentions.

The aim of the proposed law is to accelerate the permitting procedure for new renewable energy power plants, thus boosting the EU’s domestic production capacity.

EU member states still have to give their approval to the text before it can become law. EU countries are currently examining the Commission’s proposal and are expected to take a stance on Monday, opening the way for talks with Parliament to finalise the law after the new year.

“The vote today is a positive contribution to a faster energy transition,” said Markus Pieper, a German conservative MEP who steered the file through Parliament for the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).

“The less approval bureaucracy, the higher the share of renewable energies, which will ultimately lead to decreasing energy prices”, Pieper stated after the vote.

‘Renewables acceleration areas’

The revised text proposes shorter deadlines to approve new installations, with a maximum of nine months for so-called “renewables acceleration areas”, which will be determined by each EU country depending on local circumstances.

Following the “positive silence” principle, the request will be deemed approved in case the competent authority does not respond before the deadline. Outside of these areas, the acceleration process should not exceed 18 months.

Under the proposal, renewable energy projects will be considered of “overriding public interest” and can therefore benefit from simplified procedures and specific derogations from the EU’s environmental legislation.

Alongside this, EU countries will have to make sure that permits to install solar energy equipment on buildings are delivered within one month, while a notification procedure will be enough when it comes to smaller installations below 50 kilowatt.

“I want to thank the Parliament for its broad support for the measures that we proposed. Several of your amendments would strengthen our proposal,” said Commission’s Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who addressed MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday (13 December).

“I am very grateful, for instance, for your proposed shortening of permitting deadlines, both within and outside the so-called ‘go-to areas’. Ambitious deadlines for approval can obviously make a huge difference,” he added.

Inclusion of biomass

While biomass combustion plants were not part of the original proposal, a last-minute amendment tabled by the EPP group includes the possibility for EU member states to include them in the fast-track permitting scheme.

“Renewables acceleration areas should at least be established for wind turbines and solar plants and could be established for biomethane production plants,” reads the final text voted on by MEPs.

And while biomass plants are in principle “excluded from the renewables acceleration areas”, an exception can be granted “for installations located in an outermost region,” it adds.

This amendment caused disagreement among lawmakers, with the centrist Renew Europe, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the Greens initially threatening to withdraw their support.

“The selection of the location for biomass combustion plants simply does not depend on the renewable energy potential in the same way as wind and solar,” Timmermans explained during the plenary debate.

“To put it simply, biomass combustion plants can be built anywhere,” he explained, saying this is why the Commission proposed to exclude them from go-to areas.

NGOs worried over nature impact

According to the approved proposal, renewable acceleration areas cannot be designated in nature protection areas as well as identified bird and marine mammal migratory routes – except for artificial and built surfaces such as rooftops, parking lots or transport infrastructure.

However, environmental groups expressed concern that projects in ‘go-to areas’ will be exempted from environmental impact assessments (EIAs) such as those required under the Birds and Habitats directives.

The Parliament text also “failed to protect freshwater ecosystems”, the WWF added, saying this will allow the greenlighting of hydropower dams that are “harmful” for biodiversity.

“The key to the much-needed rapid expansion of wind and solar power is better spatial planning and more administrative capacity in permitting authorities, not scrapping environmental protection,” said Alex Mason from the WWF European Policy Office.

“Exempting renewables from such assessments is counterproductive, as it risks generating public opposition and leading to further challenges and delays,” he warned.

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