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A shortcut through planning procedures frequently used by the Dutch wind energy development business has been closed off by the administrative court of Alkmaar in the Netherlands. Permission to build a wind farm had already been granted by the municipality of Anna Paulowna in Noord-Holland, when the court ruled that the project should have run the full planning gauntlet. Construction of 21 wind turbines by PEN, the Noord-Holland electricity distribution company, has been postponed as a result to April next year at the earliest.

The project's building permit was challenged in court by local residents, united in a group calling itself "Geen zwaaipalen in de polder," which, roughly translated, means "No swaying poles in the polder." Dutch planning law requires local authorities to develop structure plans for their municipalities, with designated areas for industrial, agricultural and domestic development. Few authorities have designated land for wind turbines, but Anna Paulowna has done so, permitting individual turbines in areas set aside for agricultural use.

When PEN applied some years ago to construct its wind farm, the authority turned to a special clause in the planning law, Article 19, which allows for small adjustments in structure plans. The article can also be used as a shortcut in anticipation of a major change in the designation of an area -- such as making way for a new technology such as wind plant. A formal change in a structure plan is a time-consuming operation, but large office towers have been granted permission and built under the protection of Article 19. So have wind farms. Almost every wind installation in the Netherlands has a building permit based on Article 19.

However, when Anna Paulowna granted PEN permission for its wind farm under the same article, residents took the authority to court. The resulting judgement means a serious setback for wind energy, says Dick Kooman of WEOM, a development company closely associated with NedWind. It puts enough power in the hands of a single objector to stop a whole project, he told Dutch magazine, Sustainable Energy.

In the case of PEN's wind farm, though, Anna Paulowna has set the wheels in motion for a major change of the area's designation and PEN will again apply for a building permit. Jos Kouwenhoven of PEN hopes that construction can start in a year. His optimism stems from the knowledge that a new permit can be granted again under Article 19. A change in the area's designation has been formally announced and PEN now has a stronger case if the permit is challenged in court once more.

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