Supreme Court: Developing wind energy in significant public interest

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Wind turbine (photo is illustrative). Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

The Supreme Court of Estonia has ruled that wind-farm developing is of significant public interest, and that arguments that existing activities in an area planned for a renewable energy site, such as peat-cutting, do not mean that a wind-farm project should be off the table.

In the ruling Wednesday, the court found also that state institutions and municipalities must both make viable the relevant planning and establishment of a wind-farm.

Planning applications and other issues have mired at least one major private sector proposed wind farm development in delays in recent years

The ruling comes off the back of a decision concerning a plot in Pärnu County which local authorities deemed suitable for a potential wind-farm, but which is utilized in peat extraction processes.

Court: Peat cutting can coexist with wind turbine erection

The Supreme Court said there is significant public interest in both the production of wind energy and the depletion of the peat land already under exploitation.

At the same time, further drainage of wetland should be avoided, and extraction should continue on the peat land already in use, the court found.

When considering wind energy production options, it is also important to take into account national renewable energy targets, the court added, while both activities taking place concurrently would be most desirable, if technical solutions permit.

The court also found that planning and design conditions are valid for all and not only the party that applied for them, meaning the same framework could be used by any developer.

Decisive factor is land ownership

Since the Pärnu County site, a little over 890 ha (a little under 2,200 acres) in Lavassaare, a few kilometers north of Pärnu city, is located on state land, the court said the decisive factor in obtaining the right to build concerns ownership, BNS reports.

The county authority's spatial plans stated that it was possible to put up wind turbines in the site only after the peat deposits had been depleted.

Timeline of development

Two companies, Eurowind OÜ and Nelja Energia AS, applied for permission, in the Elbu and Nurme bogs, in 2017, but were rejected on the grounds they did not have Land Board (Maa-amet) and Environmental Board (Keskkonnaamet) approval – on the grounds of ongoing peat extraction activities and environmental interests.

Eurowind's appealed at the first-tier administrative court and second-tier circuit court, and was rejected both times, only for the Supreme Court's administrative chamber to overturn the two earlier decisions on Wednesday.

In the meantime, municipality lines have been redrawn, and the site now lies within the Tori municipality, whereas it lay in the Sauga municipality when the original application was made.

Supreme Court: Same rules apply to all players

The two peat cutting firms had opposed the plans on the grounds that the only suitable processes they could use would take years until the resource had been used up, while Eurowind's defense revolved around the fact that detailed plans had already allowed for a wind farm's building, and that renewable energy generation as a share of output should increase, as well as arguments that erecting the turbines would not hamper the existing peat extraction activities.

The Supreme Court ruled that if detailed plans provide for the construction of a wind farm on a peat land areas, in deciding on the granting of planning and design conditions, all reasonable steps must be made to ensure that a plan can be realized.

This obligation extends to local government as well as to the Environmental Board and the Land Board involved in the administrative procedure.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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