Wind energy association: the legislative draft to promote energy security is rushed and poorly made

Wind energy association: the legislative draft to promote energy security is rushed and poorly made

BNN

June 13, 2022

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Toms Nāburgs. Photo: Zane Bitere/LETA

Latvian Wind Energy Association (VEA) categorically objects to the legislative draft on simplified order for the construction of wind turbines that was passed in the first reading by the Saeima.

The association notes that the warnings and proposals previously presented by the sector were not taken into account. This means the legislative draft will not only not help accomplish energy security goals but will also put at risk the sector’s reputation and operation in the long-term perspective.

«If the law is passed in its current redaction, it will not ‘promote energy security and independence in the foreseeable future’, rather do the opposite – push Latvia further away from energy independence, because it will create numerous problems, slow the sector’s development and delay the commissioning of projects related to production of electrical energy. We also see major corruption risks. The legislative draft was rushed, is poorly made and it does not take into account the opinion of the industry. This is why we categorically object to this system, and invite politicians to exact changes to it,» said the head of Latvian Wind Energy Association Toms Nāburgs.

THE PROPOSED LEGISLATIVE DRAFT WILL NOT SPEED UP CONSTRUCTION OF THE WIND TURBINE PARK BECAUSE, EVEN THOUGH MULTIPLE POINTS POINT TOWARDS THE POSSIBLE SHORTENING OF THE PROCESS, IN REALITY OPERATIONS WILL BE REPLACED WITH

risks of lawsuits, making the process even longer. For example, a full report on environmental effects will be replaced with the initial evaluation and rules that govern compliance with environmental protection requirements may be expanded with additional activities. If the initial evaluation turns out negative, it will be necessary to restart the entire evaluation procedure. This means more time will be spent when compared to the current order.

In cases when the initial evaluation turns out positive, it will be based on reports of two certified experts and decisions of several officials, as opposed to the normal practice with reports from experts of various sectors and State Office for Environmental Monitoring. This approach and decisions by officials to issue technical rules may force some entrepreneurs replace a full evaluation and provide quick access to high-voltage networks and building permits, basically leaving approval of projects worth millions in the hands of a few people. This could increase corruption and risks of politisation of related decisions, reducing the interest of energy companies to invest in wind turbine parks in Latvia. This generally goes against the publicly announced goal of the legislative draft, the association stresses.

The legislative draft has signs of major contradictions in relation to the territories to be provided for wind turbine parks. It ignores the requirement to preserve natural values and permits construction to be performed under micro-contracts, leaving the development of compensatory measures in the hands of the Cabinet of Ministers, which is not the most competent institution when it comes to environmental protection. At the same time, the legislative draft also provides for the creation of a 2 km buffer zone within specific territories, reducing the space available to wind turbine parks by 65% and allowing a situation when wind parks are spread out in small groups, covering much wider territories.

The legislative draft puts wind park construction interests above individual property rights, because the status of an object of national interest together with requirements of the Energy law provide the opportunity to perform wind turbine park construction without having to coordinate anything with land owners, making only a notification of intent. This approach will likely make relations more difficult between wind turbine park developers and local communities, which will likely undermine the industry’s reputation and create high risks of lawsuits. This could halt project financing or make projects more expensive. Capital availability and price are major factors for the construction of wind turbine parks.

Industry representatives point out that the permit provision system is awkward and provides support to businessmen that are known to have used legislative loopholes and have reserved output in transmission networks but have not made any practical steps towards construction of a wind turbine park in years. These «paper projects» slow developers’ abilities to establish new wind turbine parks because connections are very limited. Reservation of connections is mentioned as a pre-condition for the issue of status of an object of national interests. However, the order of actions should be the other way around – a project that proved its potential and has received such a status should be provided with the opportunity to establish a connection after the fact.

Continuing on the risk of «paper projects», the financial collateral listed in the legislative draft is insufficient and does not indicate entrepreneurs’ capacity to do more to receive a permit. When planning construction, investors will face opposition from communities and potential lawsuits for quickly and formally coordinated projects. This will undermine the industry’s reputation in the long run and cast a shadow over Latvia’s image in the eyes of foreign investors.

GENERALLY WIND ENERGY SECTOR’S REPRESENTATIVES EXPLAIN THAT THE LEGISLATIVE DRAFT WILL NOT CONTRIBUTE TO PROMOTION OF LATVIA’S ENERGY INDEPENDENCE,

because it was developed for medium power output wind turbine parks (50-100 MW) and provides simplified procedures for projects that meet certain volume criteria for which most representatives of the industry (such as JCS Latvenergo) do not qualify. Unjustified and ineffective rules significantly narrow down the range of potential participants. This means sufficient power outputs will not be reached by wind turbine parks quickly enough.

‘We have identified the biggest risks for the industry’s development and we have compiled a list of specific solutions to prevent them. We hope the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe will assist with a fair, open and transparent procedure to prevent current problems, which range from criteria to be provided with status of an object of national interest to the unjustified regulations for construction without the need to coordinate with land owners. We in the industry understand the changes to the legislation and simplified approach for construction of wind turbines is needed. We spent years fighting for it. However, the current approach and solutions will not help accomplish the declared goals,’ notes Nāburgs.

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