Steps to remove the bureaucratic barriers

Lack of co-ordination on strategic planning between provincial and central governments and a complicated dual permitting system for wind plant have strangled healthy market development in the Netherlands. A proposed overhaul of the entire planning system could ease the way for a huge wind project on the Afsluitdijk and allow progress in Friesland.

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A radical overhaul of Dutch planning and environmental legislation, proposed by environment minister, Margaretha de Boer, has come too late to end the confusion in the current round of regional wind policy discussions. It could, however, lay the foundations for a more coherent and effective national wind policy in the future.

De Boer's proposal, submitted to her cabinet colleagues without the customary consultation with other ministries, suggests that fragmented policy goals at all levels of government "stand in the way of optimal decision making for the living environment." In place of the current division of powers and responsibilities and poor procedures for ensuring continuity of policy across different levels of government, De Boer wants to see strategic goals shared between all government departments. She proposes the introduction of new annual action plans and the implementation of procedures to guarantee that major infrastructure projects are properly implemented by placing responsibility for them at national level.

With responsibility for wind power initiatives currently divided between De Boer's own Ministry of Environment and Planning, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry for Agriculture, Countryside Management and Fisheries, there is clearly scope for the streamlining of government policy envisaged by De Boer. As such the initiative has been extended a cautious welcome by the head of the National Bureau of Wind Energy, Marielle van Aggelen. But she cautions that the published proposals are at present too vague to enable a considered response from the wind community.

As the initiative stands, the most immediate impact on Dutch wind is likely to be felt at the local level where De Boer proposes ending the Netherlands' cumbersome dual licensing system under which new projects can proceed only after they have secured both a planning and an environmental permit. It is a system which makes wind farm plans particularly vulnerable to protests from conservationists. Under De Boer's proposals local authorities would be required to issue integrated planning and environment permits.

With a number of Dutch provinces currently engaged in the revision of their policy documents for the implementation of wind power in the regions, the necessity of closer co-operation between central government and regional and local authorities is becoming painfully apparent. The controversy surrounding plans for a major new wind farm along the Afsluitdijk unveiled last June by utilities ENW and NUON (Windpower Monthly, July 1997) is a case in point.

The plant is to comprise some 60 turbines with a total installed capacity of 75-100 MW. According to Hans Koenen, head of renewables at the ministry of economic affairs, the project has the full backing of his ministry, despite earlier objections from the agricultural and countryside management ministry. Koenen was speaking at a wind workshop in Leeuwarden, Friesland, in mid February. A clarification of the government's position on the Afsluitdijk proposals had been asked for from the Friesian delegate to the Provincial Executive, Siem Jansen. He is currently charged with the revision of Friesland's wind power policy document, "Windstreek."

Jansen said at the meeting that unless positive action was taken quickly, Friesland's wind target of 200 MW by 2000, agreed between central government and the province in 1991, will have to be halved. Koenen replied that there was no question of cutting the regional target which was "a floor rather than a ceiling." Indeed, the government is looking to increase the quota after 2000. This proposal was dismissed by Jansen as unrealistic: "It will be difficult enough to reach 200 MW," he said.

Jansen confirms that unless central government takes a positive decision on the project before June he will have to develop Friesian wind policy around a reduced target of 100 MW. His policy document is due to be finalised by the start of next year. Without a clear government commitment to the Afsluitdijk project the figures cannot be made to add up, he believes. Under the last regional wind plan, drawn up in 1995, the 200 MW target was subdivided by sector: developments along the Afsluitdijk and off the coast of the Wadden Sea were to supply 135 MW with the remaining 55-65 MW being accounted for by small clusters and solitary turbines elsewhere in the province.

At present, with the wind resources of the Afsluitdijk untapped and the residents of Westhoek and Het Bildt opposed to any development off the Wadden Sea coast, only the development of solitary and small clusters of turbines is on target, with most of the region's 59 MW being supplied by some 300 low capacity wind turbines.

Limiting solitary turbines

The success of the solitary turbine sector has, however, led to increasing complaints of "horizon pollution," presenting Jansen with further problems. At the Leeuwarden meeting, Hans Nauta of conservationist group Hus en Hiem not only called for an end to further solitary turbine erection (a ruling also being contemplated in the provinces of North Holland and Groningen) but for a ban on the replacement of existing turbines as they reach the end of their operational lives.

In the face of this ever more vocal opposition, Jansen believes the way forward lies in ending the tower height restriction currently set at 40 metres, thus enabling growth through the placement of fewer, more powerful turbines in cluster formations. He also suggests that the 194 turbine owners, mostly farmers, likely to be affected by a ban on single turbine development, be compensated, possibly through tax incentives to invest in larger projects.

Although a recent survey showed the majority of Friesians to be pro-wind and to favour large scale projects (Windpower Monthly, January 1998), this rationalisation policy has also been criticised. Nauta for one is angry at official suggestions that there is little visible difference between a 40 metre and 70 metre turbine, and Jansen admits that the legal and technical feasibility of his proposed incentives scheme will have to be closely examined.

Licensing solution

De Boer's call for a legally binding "executive" document setting out rules for decision making based on the nationally agreed strategic goals would help resolve problems such as these. So, too, would the call for the integration of the dual licensing system.

The pitfalls of the present system are clearly illustrated by the experience of the Hoogland association, a group of Friesian farmers who recently had their plans for a nine turbine, 4 MW wind plant on the Nijkerkerpolder near Marrum in Friesland approved by the Provincial Executive -- some five years after they were first proposed.

Although granted planning permission by the local council when they made their initial application, the farmers' development plans have been thwarted by a group of protesters who had successfully appealed against the project on planning and environmental grounds to the local court in Leeuwarden, the Raad van State and the agriculture and fisheries ministry.

Three successive suspensions of the project's building permit have resulted in the original proposals being outmoded by technological developments. Revising the plans, however, to utilise more modern and efficient turbines would require a new environmental permit, with the risk of opening the door to a new round of protests, says the Hoogland association.

Despite the dismissal of the protesters' arguments by the Friesland Provincial Executive -- including dismissal of claims by artist Ids Willemsma that the plant would spoil the visual effect of his sculpture, De Tempel, erected near the proposed site in 1993 -- the future of the project remains in doubt. The protesters can still challenge the verdict at the Raad van State and if construction work on the project has not begun by the end of the year, the developers will lose a NLG 3 million subsidy.

For Hoogland and other wind developers currently mired in procedural delays arising from the dual licensing system, De Boer's reforms cannot come soon enough.

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