As details of the new legislation came to light, the wind industry was gathering at the Wind Power Poland 2016 event in Warsaw (8-9 March).
Ahead of the conference, European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) chairman Giles Dickson said: "This is a clear statement of intent from the governing party in Poland. The draft law proposed is deeply troubling. It will tie new projects up in red tape and make life hard for existing wind turbines that do not meet the legal demands."
The draft legislation comes after a banner year in which Poland added more new wind capacity than any other country in Europe, besides Germany.
It was proposed by MPs in the governing Law & Justice party and would introduce a requirement to site wind farms at a distance of at least ten times the turbine height — roughly 1.5 to 2.0 kilometres — away from houses and protected natural areas.
Vestas president of Northern Europe, Klaus Steen Mortensen, suggested the limit, compared to other countries, is unnecessary: "We are concerned with the proposal on wind investments, but we are ready to take the dialogue. Let's look at what they have done in other countries. In Denmark, for example, the rule is about four times tip height and the population density is even a bit higher in Denmark than in Poland."
The proposal draws comparisons to the current Polish situation, in which noise limitations generally mean turbines have to be sited about 0.5 kilometres away from these sites, explained Wojciech Sztuba, managing partner of advisory firm TPA Horwath in Poznan.
"The legislation could have quite severe consequences for investors in the sector," said Loredana Allegranza, a lawyer with the Warsaw office of Wolf Theiss. "It will be very hard to find projects that satisfy the minimum distance requirement. Wind investments will also be more difficult, and returns will be significantly reduced."
Indeed, the proposed law would also raise the property tax burden for wind farm investors, applying a 2% annual tax on the investment value of the entire turbine.
That tax had previously only been applied to the investment value of the tower and foundation. In practical terms, Marek Wladzinski of Wolf Theiss notes that a single 3MW turbine costing about €4 million could be taxed at around €80,000 a year.
Other measures in the draft legislation include a requirement to renew operating permits every two years and to get permission even for repairs and maintenance.
Wind farm developers and operators would be obligated to pay potentially significant fees to technical authorities for their permitting services, while the law also foresees fines and even jail sentences of up to two years for failure to get the necessary approvals.
The proposal would also allow for construction of wind farms only in areas designated for that purpose in local zoning plans, which are often lacking.
The Polish government, sworn in last November, appears intent on modifying the current framework for auctions by which a fixed tariff is set to be assigned to renewable energy projects.
That system had been initially scheduled to replace a green certificate mechanism on 1 January, but the government postponed the switchover to mid-year, a delay now making investors nervous.
"The auction mechanism will be destroyed or at least significantly redesigned," predicted Sztuba.
This is bad news for the wind industry, since auctions had been expected to favour onshore wind projects. However, the Polish government has expressed a preference for biogas, which it sees as a more stable power source, and has also indicated it could push geothermal power.
As a member of the European Union, the country faces binding renewable energy targets, and the Polish wind industry is expected to seek help at the European level in reminding Poland of its commitments and making legislation as palatable as possible.
Although it is unclear how successful their efforts will be, industry players are prepared for dialogue and hope to convince Poland's conservative pro-coal government of the economic merits of wind power.
EWEA notes that Poland's wind industry supports more than 8,000 jobs and generates some €140 million in revenue each year.
Wind energy had been expected to dominate Poland's planned competitive auctions because it represents a cheaper option compared with the country's other renewable energy alternatives.