Leaked reports that the EU Commission is preparing to fast-track renewables development processes by halving the permitting time for new projects in Europe have been met with considerable interest.
In usual circumstances, permitting new wind projects without first undergoing an environmental impact assessment would concern me. The effects of a project on the local environment, as well as nearby communities, has always been a key consideration for investors, and I support its place in law where possible.
The problem is, we are no longer in usual circumstances. The risk from climate change, rising inflation, and reliance on Russian oil and gas cannot be ignored. And given this pressing economic and geo-political need to accelerate the clean energy transition, I believe it is right that European governments and the Commission explore ways to shorten and streamline development processes in certain scenarios.
Now is the time to accelerate the deployment of wind power and other renewables infrastructure – at pace and at scale – as a cost-effective, sustainable, rapidly deployable, and independent means of power generation. I believe it is the crucial step in defining a European-wide focus on clean energy, in tandem with improving transmission across national and regional grids, and supporting the roll-out of storage technologies.
The Commission’s proposals - if agreed without significant amendments - will go some way to facilitating this rollout. Softening individual environmental impact assessments in certain areas by replacing them with an area-wide ‘strategic’ impact assessment, will cut through what the draft proposals call “lengthy and complex administrative procedures [which] are a key barrier for investment”. This has the potential to match demand for renewables, and especially wind power, with the large-scale investment that is ready to be deployed.
At the same time, developers must not lose sight of other key environmental and social criteria that form an important part of the energy transition. This is crucial as companies look to responsibly manage their investments. Pivotal to this is setting out how to consider sustainability risks and adverse sustainability impacts in investment decisions, through EU SFDR and taxonomy regulations.
It is also worth drawing attention to supply chain scrutiny and community funding initiatives as further key tenets of the ESG process when considering looser regulation on the environment. The former is vital, in that it accepts the environmental and social impacts of a development through the entire life cycle of a project; from the very first extraction of the key materials needed to construct a wind turbine, rotor, or transmission cable. The latter acknowledges the need to foster tangible improvements to local communities through a project alongside the wider benefit that wind power and other renewables bring to society.
Accelerating both the renewables transition and maintaining our responsibilities to the environment and surrounding populace are eminently possible. It is crucial that investors continue to hold themselves to these standards; seizing new opportunities to deploy wind power at pace, while ensuring any adverse impacts are effectively identified and mitigated.
Peter Dickson is partner at Glennmont Partners