Europe’s energy goals ‘endangered’ by permit delays

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The EU’s 2020 energy targets will be imperilled if a three-year guillotine for transmission line permit appeals is watered down, the head of Europe’s electricity network operators warned yesterday (29 February) at the launch of a 10-Year network development plan.

In a far-reaching projection, the European Network Transmission Systems Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E) says that €104 billion will be needed to finance some 51,500km of high voltage power lines in the next eight years.

The lion’s share of this investment will take place in Britain (€19 billion) and Germany (€30 billion).

But the ENTSO-E report also found that one in three planned investments is currently being held up by delays in the permitting process, which have been known to drag on for decades. 

The EU executive tried to address this in its €9.1-billion energy infrastructure package last October, by imposing a three-year deadline on future planning appeals and appointing ‘grids tsars’ to police it, but the move is facing opposition.

“Any longer time period or leaving it entirely to ‘subsidiarity’, we fear could really endanger many of these needed projects and could thus really endanger the overall energy policy goals for Europe,” Konstantin Staschus, the ENTSO-E secretary-general said, in response to a question from EURACTIV.

Energy blueprint

The ENTSO-E blueprint envisages renewable energy triggering 80% of infrastructure needs until 2020, such as interconnections linking the North Sea offshore grid to the mainland.

But only 9,000 kilometers of transmission lines will be underwater, compared to 28,150 kilometers of overhead lines, which notoriously irk local residents for reasons of sightlines, property prices and health risks.

Some EU states are also objecting on grounds of ‘subsidiarity’, or decentralising power to the smallest local unit, even though grid length is only developing at a rate of 1.3% a year, despite an imminent shift towards electricity generation from renewables.

During a ministerial roundtable on the infrastructure package on 14 February, the Czech energy minister dismissed the fast-tracking of transmission infrastructure projects as a “transfer of powers from national bodies [that] we cannot support.”

Speaking to EURACTIV, António Correia de Campos, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on the infrastructure package, said: “We need to relax a bit and look into the viability of performing these tasks to such an early and stringent schedule”.

Legal challenges

However, Staschus stressed that the proposed cut-off would still allow scope for legal challenges. 

“This is a general enough goal that it leaves sufficient subsidiarity for different member states to design their permitting processes in very different federal or centralistic ways,” he said.

“But it still has to be fast if the systems ability to implement massive amounts of renewable resources is going to keep pace with the speed of investments.”

The ENTSO-E plan identifies 100 ‘bottlenecks’, 80% of which are related to the direct or indirect integration of renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power, and lists more than 100 ‘projects of common interest’.

“The commissioning of projects of pan-European significance could result in CO2 savings of 170 MtCO2 (Million tones of CO2 equivalent), of which  150 MtCO2 results from the connection of renewable generation technology and 20 MtCO2 which stem from savings due to further market integration,” the report says.

ENTSO-E has been tasked by the EU with producing a new non-binding 10-year plan every two years.

In December 2009, EU heads of state and government agreed a fiscal stimulus package representing around 1.5% of EU GDP, or €200 billion. The package was adopted on the basis of a European Commission proposal presented the month before, and which appears to have contained the genesis of the monies announced yesterday's infrastructure plan.

To complement the recovery plan, the Commission proposed reallocating unspent EU funds away from agriculture to support energy and broadband Internet infrastructure projects.

Under the proposal, sums would be shifted from 'heading two' of the EU budget (preservation and management of natural resources, including direct payments to support the farming sector) to 'heading 1A' (competitiveness, growth and employment).

  • 22 March: Deadline for tabling amendments to the draft report
  • 28 March: ENTSOE hold stakeholder workshop
  • 26 April: Deadline for stakeholders to submit comments to public consultation on the 10 Year Plan.
  • 31 May: Vote on the draft report by the European Parliament’s ITRE Committe

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