Red tape just a red herring -- Permitting report

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Ask any industry observer to name the main obstacle facing Dutch wind and the answer is likely to be the difficulty of acquiring all the necessary construction, planning and environmental permits. It seems, however, that observers are mistaken, for Dutch red tape is not half as bad as it is made out to be. This is the unexpected conclusion of a new study into permit procedures conducted by the University of Utrecht and Rotterdam-based renewable energy agency CEA.

The average wind farm takes just 46 weeks to clear the planning hurdles and secure all the necessary permits from local councils, according to the study. Its conclusions are based on a survey of 296 Dutch wind projects, processed by 38 different local councils, and accounting for around half the Netherlands' installed capacity. What the survey reveals is that the bad reputation for Dutch bureaucracy looks to have been earned by just 10% of project, representing mainly larger developments. They took longer than two years to complete the planning process.

Nor do public protests provide any significant obstacle: just 7% of wind projects were discontinued as a result of public protests, whereas around one-third of all project applications were subject to protest.

Report author Juliette Koeslag undertook the research as a graduation project and has faced some stiff questioning from the wind sector, which has queried whether the period covered -- 1990 to date -- might be unduly distorted by the large number of small, single turbines built in the early 1990s for which it was relatively easy to gain planning permission.

The study does cover its fair share of larger wind plant, points out report supervisor Marco Tieleman of the CEA, although he concedes that supplementary research will help to further clarify the picture. He also points out that the research only deals with the planning and construction applications processed by local councils, while some projects require additional environmental permits. There is thus no direct relation between the time take for completing the permitting process and the actual construction of a wind station.

But the central message is simple, says Tieleman: "This tells those who are thinking about investing in wind not to be discouraged by bureaucratic obstacles. If you've done your ground work and are well prepared, your permit application will be processed in a reasonable amount of time."

The publication of the report coincides with an initiative by the economics ministry to cut wind farm planning application times from an estimated four to seven years to two-and-a-half years by reforming and streamlining the planning process through the introduction of a single integrated permit. "We will be pleased to give them access to our research," says Tieleman helpfully.

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