The government has opened a fast track to exempting large renewable energy projects from environmental impact assessments that it considers strategic, regardless of their size and as long as they are not intended to be installed in protected areas or at sea. Promoted by a European directive, this temporary abbreviated process—which will last until the end of 2024—began with a decree in March last year, but has now modified many of its features with a new decree. The executive said it was an emergency measure due to the war in Ukraine, while environmental organisations, the region’s defense and environmental technocrats warned that the process could lead to approval of megaparks with strong social disapproval or affect biodiversity. , and can predict wave complaints
Environmental impact assessment is a technical and administrative process that analyzes the potential risks to the environment of a project before it is given the go-ahead by the administration. All organizations involved and civil society can also participate through a period of public notice. “The competent body requests reports on environmental impact, flooding, noise, impact on landscape or biodiversity… then there is a period of consultation with other state bodies and civil society organizations. All this information is used to modify the project. is returned to the promoter”, says Íñigo Sobrini, spokesman for the Spanish Association for Environmental Impact Assessment (AEEIA). Renewable energy plants over 50 megawatts (MW) have to go through this process before the Ministry of Ecological Transition, while those less are processed by autonomous communities.
Decree-Law 6/2022 of 29 March created an accelerated temporary procedure – called the “Environmental Status Determination Procedure” – to process wind and photovoltaic installations that were exempted from this complex assessment that were designed for installations up to 150 MW. Can be applied to solar plants. and wind up to 75 MW, as long as they are located in a low environmental impact area (as per the zoning prepared by the Ecological Transition).
Decree-Law 20/2022, of 27 December, extends this expressway to parks with no size limit and also removes the requirement of low environmental impact. On the other hand, it maintains a full environmental assessment for projects located in marine protected areas (such as the Natura 2000 network and others), or whose electrical substation wiring exceeds 15 kilometers. Ministry sources reveal that most of the projects submitted are between 50 and 100 MW, although it is true that some exceed that size.
The AEEIA criticizes that this new process eliminates the public information stage and the possibility of community participation, prevents consultation with other organizations and represents a comparative grievance with respect to projects that have passed an environmental assessment. . Its president Íñigo Sobrini says, “The development of renewable energy should not be undermined by environmental requirements.”
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Luis Bolonio, spokesman for Alianza Energia y Territorio (Aliante) — which brings together more than 200 entities — believes the order is “an assault on democracy and public participation that will escalate the struggle in rural areas with renewable energy.” ” For this reason, he predicts that neighborhoods and environmental organizations will take many photovoltaic or wind farms approved through this process to court, as civil society would not be able to participate any other way. “Of course we are going to court, it is very sad that this is the only way they are going to leave the public,” says Bolonio. Sobrini agrees: “Any project with impeccable processing is already condemnable, so if there is no environmental assessment, a lot will be done. This creates legal uncertainty”.
In fact, five big Spanish environmental NGOs (Friends of the Earth, Ecologists in Action, Greenpeace, SEO/BirdLife and WWF) have said the same thing in a statement on Friday: “Renewables deployment is likely to slow depending on demands Court.” These organizations believe the measure “exposes many endangered species and areas of high ecological value to unnecessary and unprecedented risk” and demand “combines the deployment of renewable energy with the protection of biodiversity.”
a contractual remedy
Teresa Ribera’s department responded that it was a circumstantial measure in case of war and that projects would continue to be evaluated by ministry technicians. “This measure responds to the agreement of the Council of Energy Ministers of the European Union on 19 December, which requires shorter authorization procedures in areas with less environmental risk,” says a spokesman for the ministry. “This is a temporary response to Russian aggression against Ukraine, as renewable energy can help deter Russia from using energy as a weapon. European regulations thus recognize that renewable energies are of high public interest.” and contribute to public health and safety, which justifies temporarily restricting normal procedures”, he continues. In summary, “there is no other option, Europe tells us we must act now” because of the constraints on renewable licenses.
peter fresh, The former director of energy transition of the Valencian Community, gives two reasons for this bottleneck: “There are more requests than expected for renewable parks and the administration is not well dimensioned, there are few technical personnel to process them.” Furthermore, it is a long and tedious process, usually lasting more than a year, but can easily be extended to two or three if there is an allegation. Fundación Renovables spokesman Juan Fer believes the initiative will serve to unblock important renewable projects, “but it’s a patch, what we really need is more technicians in administration to streamline processes at all levels.” Be.”
Ministry sources point to another problem: Many projects are presented that are unfeasible – sometimes, leading to speculation and crippling other initiatives – but the administration can’t just reject them, but complete them. The process has to be completed, which is resource consuming and slow for viable parks. “The administration is giving a lot of guarantees, even if it knows it can’t be parked, it has to prove it,” he explains.
With the new route, the promoter will have to submit a procedure for the environmental damage done by an external consultant and after studying it, it will be the technicians of the Ministry of Ecological Transition who will decide whether the step is sufficient or not and they will continue Can keep fast track; If they have doubts, they will demand a full, slow process. In either case, the technician may seek modification of the project. Enoch Martinez, an environmental consultant technician and broadcaster explains: “Promoters are not fools. Anyone who wants to build a photovoltaic plant will first go to the city to ask. If someone takes advantage of the fast process and social backlash, they run the risk of condemning their project, and that means several months of delay”.
Pedro Fresco, who is also the author of future of energy in 100 questions (Nautilus), defends the existence of a clear process: “The ideal will always be an environmental impact assessment, but we have a terrible historical delay in the implementation of renewables and we urgently need to change that. I don’t know if this regulation is ideal or not, but we have to do something, although there is always a risk of getting it wrong. The Valencians recall that the European Union has urged all member states to take similar measures. Indeed, Portugal approved a similar initiative in December.
A spokesman for the Renewables Foundation says another, however: “As renewable energy becomes an extractive activity, that is, large companies, which can quickly build macro-plants, continue to control energy.” From the foundation they defend the democratization of energy with initiatives such as energy communities or photovoltaic self-consumption.
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