Onshore wind power – increased local influence
On 13 January 2023, the Norwegian Government issued a consultation paper with a proposal for changes to the licensing process for onshore wind power projects. The main take-away is that the proposal will significantly increase the municipalities' influence over new projects, as new municipal planning and zoning requirements must be concluded before a specific wind power project may be granted a license in accordance with the Energy Act.
After a three year stand-still period, processing of license applications for new onshore wind power projects resumed in April 2022, subject to consent from the host municipality. The recently issued consultation paper, jointly prepared by the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development and the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, follows up on the Norwegian Government's signalled intention to increase the municipalities' influence over new onshore wind power projects and ensure that new wind power projects shall be subject to both the Energy Act and the Planning and Building Act.
The consultation paper proposes that new licenses for onshore wind power projects may not be issued before the planning and zoning process has been concluded, through the municipal approval of an area zoning plan (Nw.: "områdereguleringsplan"). If approved, the proposal will considerably increase the municipalities' influence over new wind power projects.
Current system has created local turbulence and unpredictability
The proposal marks a change compared to the current situation, where the municipality's view has been taken into account as part of the consultation process for the installation license headed by the energy authorities. In addition, there was regularly a need for the municipalities to grant exceptions from applicable conflicting area plans (Nw.: "arealplan") or zoning plans after the award of a license under the Energy Act. As the time often passed between those two interactions, and hence the governing parties in the municipality, the local appetite for wind power as well as the wind power project itself could have changed in the meantime, this process has caused local turbulence, unpredictability for the project developers and sometimes substantial economic losses or delays.
Proposal to increase local influence balanced by more predictability for developers
Whereas the new requirement to conclude the planning and zoning process mentioned above will increase the municipalities' influence over new projects, the consultation paper also suggests to limit the municipalities' possibility to subsequently revoke or amend zoning plans for wind farms. The purpose is to provide predictability to developers of onshore wind power projects. If the proposal is approved, such zoning plans may not be revoked or significantly amended during the period from when the wind farm project has applied for an energy license and until the construction deadline has expired under that license, unless requested by the license holder or with consent from the Ministry.
The backdrop of the suggested process in respect of predictability is that it would result in two separate, parallel administrative complaint procedures (one for the zoning plan and one for the energy license), towards two different Ministries with different overall purposes and responsibilities. This could cause delay and process risk.
State plans less relevant as a measure to implement a valid license
Another interesting topic in the consultation paper is the suggestion to materially reduce the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy's possibility to give the energy license effect as a central government land-use plan (Nw.: "statlig plan"). According to the consultation paper, this shall only be possible in extraordinary circumstances where development and construction of a wind farm should be approved due to regional and national interests even though the municipality is against it.
Potential conflict with EU requirements for one-stop shop
Although the consultation paper outlines the EU and EEA framework applicable for processing of license applications, the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development and the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy have not explicitly addressed whether the proposal is compliant with the developments within the EU. For instance, the EU's revised renewable energy directive (EU) 2018/2001 requires member states to establish a "one-stop-shop" for applications regarding inter alia construction of power plants. We note that it has not yet been concluded whether this revised directive is relevant under the EEA agreement, but the potential conflict with the dual-process proposed by the Ministries is not addressed in the consultation paper.
The consultation paper is available here (in Norwegian). The hearing deadline is set to 27 February 2023, and the indication is that the proposal will be addressed by the Norwegian Parliament before the summer of 2023.