Race to replace Russian gas with wind delayed by red tape

Race to replace Russian gas with wind delayed by red tape

    

MON, 02 MAY, 2022 – 03:57

WILL MATHIS

Ten thousand euro to print binders full of documents. Years in court to defend lawsuits. Hiring local contractors to lobby small-town bureaucrats. Energy producers say these time-consuming bottlenecks are thwarting Europe’s push to ditch Russia and be more self-reliant.

European leaders promised to scale up the continent’s renewable-power capacity while reducing imports of Russian gas, but words move faster than permits.

Builders say fast-tracking the energy transition means unraveling red tape and reconciling lofty, national climate ambitions with the limited capacity of most local authorities to implement them.

According to Henrik Andersen, chief executive officer of Vestas Wind Systems, the world’s largest wind turbine maker: 

There’s only one way to accelerate the supply of electricity into the system: Accelerate the permitting.

The EU’s plans necessitate a rapid expansion of renewables, particularly onshore wind farms, which tend to be most productive during winter, the peak season for consuming gas.

The EU wants its wind power capacity to reach at least 480 gigawatts by 2030 — more than double the current level. But Bloomberg forecasts the EU is set to reach only about two-thirds of that amount.

Pietro Radoia, an analyst at Bloombergm said: 

The process is particularly inefficient and there’s huge room for improvement  — It’s only getting worse. 

Russia’s biggest buyer of gas is Germany, where the government vowed to accelerate green-energy development through measures such as increasing the areas available for solar parks, expanding electric grids and adding wind farms at sea.

The 500-page package will help Germany almost double the share of renewables in gross energy consumption within a decade, economy minister Robert Habeck said.

“This is crucial to increase the pace of the expansion,” he said.

But the proposed legislation is far from a silver bullet, said Ron Schumann, a political adviser at the German Wind Energy Association. It’s unclear to him how the government will follow through on its promises to offer more land or nudge local officials to make faster decisions on permits. Schumann said: 

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There are some changes that will help boost the wind-energy buildup, but the legislation we have now isn’t going to solve all the issues.

That’s because many of the speed bumps are beyond the grasp of federal ministries in Berlin. There’s already an environmental law in Germany that says authorities should decide on applications within 10 months. But that timeline rarely is adhered to by county-level decision makers, builders say.

Some inefficiencies are built into the system – such as a preference for paperwork over digital submissions.

Earlier this year, EnBW Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg spent more than €10,000 to print 36,000 pages for an application to erect three wind turbines in its home state. The binders stretched the length of a conference-room table when placed side-by-side.

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At that rate of almost €800 per megawatt of wind turbines, companies would spend about €8m a year just on paperwork if the nation hits its target of adding 10 gigawatts of onshore wind capacity annually by 2030.

It now takes at least four years to get a permit approved by local authorities, a doubling since 2017, said Michael Class, head of generation portfolio development for EnBW.

And once the permit is in hand, opponents often challenge them in court. Those efforts rarely succeed but can add years to the building process, he said.

Sometimes the delay is so long the company must resubmit parts of the application because the turbines it planned to use became obsolete and were taken off the market.

Even so, critics of the inefficiencies recognise that permitting processes are in place for a reason and that officials must balance the need for more renewable energy with the concerns of the local populace.

“The key challenge is to make these processes more efficient and more predictable,” said Olle Olsson, senior research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute. “You don’t want to run roughshod over other interests in the vicinity.”

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