Municipal wind park development process could be cut in half

Aidu Wind Farm.
Aidu Wind Farm. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Ministry of Finance suggests a change that would permit municipalities to develop wind farms faster than they presently can. The ministry also intends to streamline the ongoing planning procedures and allow wind farm developments on state-owned land to trump municipal decisions.

More than a dozen municipalities and cities have initiated specific spatial planning procedures to determine the best location for a wind farm on their land. A specific spatial plan (eriplaneering) is divided into two phases. The first stage is to select a number of suitable sites on a map and determine where the wind farm would be most efficient and cause least harm.

In the second stage, a more comprehensive planing for the site with the highest scores is developed. It is impossible to predict how long the entire process will take, as none of the municipalities has chosen a location. The Ministry of Finance said that planning in its current form spans over five to six years.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Finance presented to the government its proposals for significantly shortening the municipal specific spatial planning process. Municipalities will be able to save up to two or three years, Kadi-Kaisa Kaljuveer, an adviser in the ministry's spatial planning department, said.

"If, at the conclusion of the pre-selection process, they are satisfied and no additional studies are required, and if the environmental impact assessment confirms that the site is suitable for wind farms — that there is no conflict — they have the option to skip a more detailed planning and go through with stipulating the design conditions (projekteerimistingimus) to finalize the project on that stage," Kaljuveer explained.

Choosing a location needs to be more precise

The spirit of the law now necessitates more detailed planning than is required for design conditions. It should determine the precise sites and building area, as well as the locations of specific wind turbines in wind parks, among other things. In addition, an extensive environmental study must now be conducted. Bats should be counted and groundwater tested if necessary. A road network and utilities should also be established.

Kaljuveer said that some of these things could be solved by the municipality by stipulating specific design conditions.

"Today it is also practiced that in the general planning phase you merely specify areas where it is possible to build structured with certain design conditions," Kaljuveer drew a parallel. "In the same way, when you pre-select a site, you stipulate the requirements on the basis of which design conditions can be issued later."

To grant design conditions, however, a greater level of detail is necessary. In certain instances, "municipalities must do more during the pre-selection phase," Kaljuveer said.

However, the planned legislative change allows also for a more detailed planning solution. However, public discussion of this would be postponed to a later stage, the planning adoption stage. This would cut the entire process by about a half-year.

The amendment also concern planning activities in progress

Until now, significant amendments to the Planning Act have been accompanied by a note that all pending plans will be finalized in accordance with the existing law.

"The proposed changes are such that they also apply to ongoing planning activities," Kaljuveer said.

The ministry hopes that wind farms will be built sooner than expected in municipalities where discussions are already underway.

There are currently four rounds of public consultation in the local municipality's special spatial planning. The first step is to consult with the community about what should be considered during the pre-selection process, followed by a discussion regarding the suggested location. Then the discussion of the detailed planning solution (detailne planeeringulahendus) is followed by a public consultation on the full specified spatial plan (eriplaneering).

Even the most advanced municipalities still have to go through the second round of public discussions of the whole process. Kaljuveer said that municipalities should take into account a possible change in the law before doing so."

This will ensure that those who believed they could only provide input on the solution's specifics [i.e. during the detailed planning phase] realize that they will no longer have this opportunity," Kaljuveer said.

The Ministry of Finance is still considering how all of these proposals will be codified into legislation. It is likely that the Riigikogu will be requested to add them to a bill that has already passed first reading.

"If all goes according to plan, the amendment will become effective at the start of the new year," Kaljuveer said.

Another strategy to expedite wind farm development

In parallel, the Ministry is also preparing a second wind farm accelerator strategy. This comes from an idea that has emerged in the European Union, whereby each member state should identify priority development locations so that wind turbines could be built within a few years.

This opens a window of opportunity for those municipalities whose leading politicians oppose wind farms on principle. If you wish, you could then initiate specific special planning simply by so to speak securing land directly from the state.

"This is one of the solutions we still have to think about," Kaljuveer said. "The package we are putting together has to be ready by 2023."

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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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