© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The European Union flags flutter ahead of the gas talks between the EU, Russia and Ukraine at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium September 19, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman
By Kate Abnett
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union executive wants to speed up the bloc’s green transition and cut its reliance on Russian fuels by allowing some renewable energy projects to receive permits within a year, a draft document shows.
Brussels will next week unveil a package of measures to end the European Union’s reliance on Russia, by boosting renewable energy, saving energy and increasing gas imports from elsewhere.
As part of this, the European Commission will propose rules requiring countries to designate “go-to areas” of land or sea suitable for renewable energy, where such projects would have a low environmental impact, the draft legislative proposal shows.
“The permit-granting process for new projects located in renewables go-to areas shall not exceed one year,” the document said, adding that this could be extended by three months in “extraordinary circumstances”.
That compares with the EU’s current two-year deadline for permitting such schemes, which can also be extended by an extra year. Projects outside of go-to areas would stick to this timeline, the draft said.
Renewable projects often face far longer delays, however, owing to red tape, local opposition or concerns about protecting endangered species, raising concerns that the bloc will struggle to expand wind and solar energy fast enough to meet climate change goals.
In Greece, for example, eight years is a typical timeline for approving wind energy projects, the Hellenic Wind Energy Association said.
“Renewable energy sources are crucial to fight climate change, reduce energy prices, decrease the Union’s dependence on fossil fuels and ensure the Union’s security of supply,” the document said.
Permitting and building renewable energy projects would be labelled as in the “overriding public interest”, enabling a simplified assessment. EU citizens would still have the right to participate in decisions on the projects, the draft said.
Go-to areas would avoid protected sites or bird migration routes, and prioritise built areas like rooftops, roads and railways, industrial sites and public land around them.
The overall areas would be subject to an environmental assessment, but individual projects would no longer need one, unless they would significantly affect the environment in another EU country, the draft said.
Smaller projects with less than 150kW capacity in go-to areas would face a faster six-month permitting process, or nine if there are issues around safety or the impact on the power grid.
The speedier permit rules would not apply to plants that burn biomass for energy.