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EU court advocate backs wind farm ban

EUROPE: Restrictions on the construction of wind farms within areas protected from development by European Union biodiversity legislation may be justified in some cases, according to an opinion issued by European Court of Justice (ECJ) advocate general, Jan Mazak.

Mazak's opinion was published in April, and relates to a case that was originally heard by the regional administrative court of Apulia, Italy.

While Mazak's opinion is not binding, the majority of ECJ final judgments reflect the opinions published by the advocate generals assigned to assess the case. A final judgment on the Apulia dispute is expected later this year and will act as a legal precedent for all other relevant cases across the EU.

The Apulia case involves a proposed wind energy project earmarked for land within the boundaries of the Alta Murgia National Park - a site included in the EU's Natura 2000 conservation network. A local court barred the proposed development, but project developer Eolica di Altamura and site owner Azienda Agro-Zootecnica Franchini appealed the judgment. The Apulia court sought guidance from the ECJ on how to apply seemingly conflicting EU directives governing biodiversity protection and the promotion of renewable-energy generation.

In his legal opinion, Mazak states that protection under nature conservation laws does not automatically prohibit wind-energy development. However, he notes that this particular prohibition appeared justified, given nearby bird deaths reportedly caused by collisions with wind turbines adjacent to the proposed development site. Mazak also notes that Apulia is one of Italy's leading regions for renewable-energy generation and that the prohibition would not impede either Apulia or Italy meeting their renewable-energy targets.

Also noteworthy is Mazak's general conclusion that the EU directives allow member states to adopt "more stringent national measures prohibiting the construction on a Natura 2000 site of wind turbines not intended for self-consumption".

An ECJ final judgment in line with Mazak's opinion would have important repercussions. Europe's 26,000 Natura 2000 sites often overlap with areas of high wind power potential.

Last year, EU guidelines on wind farms located within such sites stated that "appropriately sited and well-designed wind-energy developments are generally not a threat to biodiversity".

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