Council Regulation (EU) 2022/2577 laying down a framework to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy is now in force in Ireland. The Regulation establishes temporary rules (18 months duration) of an emergency nature to accelerate the permit-granting process applicable to the production of energy from renewable energy sources, with a particular focus on specific renewable energy technologies or types of projects which are capable of achieving a short term acceleration of the pace of deployment of renewables in the Union. The Regulations will apply to repowering wind energy projects, solar projects and heat pumps. The key requirements are the timelines which must be applied to the permitting (including planning permission) of these projects, subject to certain criteria The permit consenting process for wind farm repowering projects should not exceed six months, and three months for solar. Where an Environmental Impact Assessment is required for repowering projects, the Regulations also state that the assessment should focus on the difference between the original project and the proposal.
The Regulation also introduces a presumption of ‘overriding public interest’ for renewable energy projects. This aspect relates to implementing the Habitats Directive and will have implications, particularly for existing wind energy projects located in or close to European Designated sites (Natura 2000 sites). Concerning species protection, it shall only apply if and to the extent that appropriate species conservation measures contributing to the maintenance or restoration of the populations of the species at a favourable conservation status are undertaken and sufficient financial resources, as well as areas, are made available for that purpose.
The above points are some of the key aspects of the Regulations but not all. What will be very interesting is how this plays out in practice in the planning system and with the various stakeholders involved in that system. We have several extensions of life and repowering projects being worked on currently, and MKO has established an internal committee to understand the legal obligations but also the strategies that will need to be employed at the project level and accept the realities of the planning process as implemented in Ireland currently. The Regulations are, without doubt, a positive step in setting the tone and improving the narrative that can be brought to individual planning applications, which is to be welcomed generally.
The Regulations are part of the REPowerEU package, which consists of significant measures to reduce EU dependency on Russian fossil fuels and tackle the climate crisis.