No cheers for new regulations -- Streamlining the permit process

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Long-promised legislation reducing the red tape faced by Dutch wind farm developers came into effect at the beginning of December. How much of an impact it will have in clearing a path through the Netherlands' notoriously time consuming planning regulations remains to be seen.

Under the old legislation, new wind farms, having first secured a site eligible under local land use regulations, required a building permit, an environmental permit and, depending on the size of the project, a so-called environmental impact report (MER) weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the chosen location against other possibilities.

Mixed response

As of December 1, wind farms under 10 MW will no longer be automatically required to conduct an MER, while wind farms under 15 MW will no longer need an environmental permit as long as they meet certain specified criteria. The government hopes these measures will free up capacity and speed up growth in the Netherlands' critical sub-15 MW on-shore sector. Reactions among project developers are mixed.

Johan Dekkers of WEOM believes that the wind noise curve included in the criteria for environmental permit exemption will actually allow more turbines to be built in groups. "It's more flexible than other measures and because permits are noise related it means that we'll be able to build five in place of four turbines, for example." The criteria states that any turbine should be four times its hub height removed from the nearest residence.

He is less enthusiastic about the 15 MW ceiling, which leaves projects between 10 MW and 15 MW requiring an MER, but not a permit. "We're expecting the MER to be raised to 15 MW to harmonise the system," he says. This is confirmed by Hans Siegler of the environment ministry's energy department.

Flicker fears

Ernst van Zuylen of renewables consultancy and project developer Ecofys is concerned about a regulations requiring prevention of any blade shadow on dwellings within 12 times the rotor diameter when the flicker or shadow occurs for more than 20 minutes a day on more than 17 days a year. "At the moment I'm uncertain how that will work out in practice," he says.

All are agreed, however, that the new rules will not make the development process any quicker. "In practice, project developers always applied for their environmental permits along with their building permits, which generally take two to three months to be processed," says Dekkers. "The real obstacle is not the environmental permit -- any project will meet standards for noise, safety and shadow nuisance as a matter of course. The real problem lies with the town and country planning aspect -- sorting out the zoning and land use procedures, that can take years."

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