Permitting, community engagement, repowering 'key for European onshore wind growth'

Community engagement and faster permitting can help speed up wind power development in Europe, Electric City panellists believe

Panel discussion on the hurdles to overcome for onshore wind expansion at WindEurope's Electric City event in Copenhagen
Panel discussion on the hurdles to overcome for onshore wind expansion at WindEurope's Electric City event in Copenhagen

Better community engagement and stricter enforcement of permitting regulations can help ease licensing for new and repowered onshore wind farms, according to panellists at WindEurope’s Electric City conference (23-25 November) in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Industry experts said faster permitting can help the EU expand onshore wind and help the sector play its role in delivering carbon neutrality by 2050.

Speeding up the permitting process can also help the supply chain handle the volume and timing of delivering components needed for a future onshore wind build-out, panellists said.

Above all, the wind industry needs to work with political leaders and members of the community to spell out the benefits of wind’s role in the energy transition, according to speakers on the "Unlocking the further expansion of onshore wind" panel. 

Åslaug Marie Haga, CEO of the Norwegian Wind Energy Association (Norwea) said: “There are huge opportunities — no doubt about that. But we’ve got to make the most of these opportunities.”

And Christian Zinglersen, director of the European Union Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (Acer) described permitting delays as a “significant issue across Europe”.

Haga added that onshore wind has become “extremely controversial” in Norway, and this has caused permitting to grind to halt, with very few new licences being granted.

She said not enough was being given back to communities that host wind farms — whether through community grants and ownership in projects, or job creation — and that many people believed wind farm development was “good for the environment, but bad for nature”.

“It is fair enough that we supply some money locally and jobs locally for something that is seen as a disadvantage locally, but an advantage nationally,” she added. “We need to speed up the process, but it is a hard balance to strike with the right community engagement.”

Stricter enforcement

Under existing EU regulations, new wind farms should be permitted within two years, while repowered projects should be permitted within on year, although this can be extended in some circumstances.

Member states currently aim for this timeline voluntarily, but the EU is expected to include measures for stricter enforcement of this schedule when it updates its regulations on permitting early next year, a WindEurope spokesman advised.

In the panel session, Uli Südhoff, head of central, northern and eastern Europe for German turbine maker Enercon, asked: “What is the enforcement mechanism if that is not translated into reality? I’m sceptical that guidance alone is sufficient.”

Südhoff added that repowering projects would be “critical” to expanding onshore wind in Europe in the future, as it would allow some of the continent’s best wind resources to continue being used by the wind power industry.

“Why bring down a turbine after 20 years? It’s crazy,” he said.

“We need more upgrades of a wind turbine. We can triple the energy with the same land being used.

“With faster permitting and [capacity allocated for repowering] in auctions, there are ways to do it. I hope we will be getting more focus on that.”

Industrial uncertainty

Faster permitting and greater volumes of onshore wind build-out can help turbine makers and companies in their supply chains, Sheri Hickok, CEO of international onshore wind at US manufacturer GE Renewable Energy told the panel.

Companies on the supply side struggle with the uncertainty in the volume and timing of orders — with slow and difficult-to-predict permitting making it even harder to plan ahead, she said

“We’re getting less [order volume] through in total, but now [orders are] more unpredictable.

“For a wind farm we need about a year’s notice for some components. If we don’t know when that permit is going to come through, that creates a lot of uncertainty," she told delegates.

Hickok added that while many expected wind turbine manufaturers to continue innovating in terms of size and power rating, other innovations would also be needed to standardise components such as aviation lights. Such developments will help turbine manufacturers to build more units at the industrial scale needed to reach carbon neutrality.

“Innovation has to come, not just in size, but through standardisation and optimisation,” Hickok said.

“The less variation we can have in parts of the turbine that the customer doesn’t care about the better.”

'Do we want to go for a green transition or not?'

Expanding onshore wind may require “sensitive” handling of discussions with local communities, Enercon’s Südhoff said. But Norwea’s Haga agreed that if the wind industry is to play its role in reaching carbon neutrality then the industry will need to work to reduce obstacles to development, by working with communities to reduce opposition to wind power.

This in turn will help to ease permitting and allow for more and faster wind power development.

“We need to decide what we want as a society. Do we want to go for a green transition or not?” Südhoff explained.

“If we answer ‘Yes’, then we need to be consistent with that.”

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