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EU Revamps Renewable Energy Directive to Accelerate Wind Project Approvals

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After 18 months of political negotiations, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU, and the European Commission reached a provisional agreement on revising the 2018 EU Renewables Directive. The revised directive includes an increased EU renewable energy target of 42.5% by 2030 and introduces new measures aimed at streamlining the permitting process for renewable energy projects.

Permitting has been the largest obstacle for expanding wind energy at scale, with about 80 GW of wind power capacity currently delayed in permitting procedures throughout Europe, including at least 59 GW in onshore projects. Some countries take up to nine years to grant permits for individual projects, which is incompatible with Europe’s climate and energy ambitions. The EU installed only 16 GW of new wind energy last year, far short of the 31 GW per year needed to achieve its targets by 2030.

The recent policy revisions demonstrate that decision-makers recognize the urgency of facilitating wind energy project development. The revised EU Renewables Directive builds upon the EU Recommendations and Guidance on permitting simplification and the Emergency Permitting Measures implemented in 2022.

The revised directive retains the existing two-year limit for new projects and one-year limit for repowering projects, but offers more clarity on the types of permits required within these timeframes, such as administrative, grid connection permits, and Environmental Impact Assessments. It also introduces “renewable acceleration areas” where Member States can expedite permitting, reducing the timeline to one year for new projects and six months for repowering. Germany, Spain, and Portugal have already identified these acceleration areas.

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The revised directive also classifies renewable energy sources as an “overriding public interest,” helping to address legal challenges that often delay renewable project construction. This principle is already facilitating wind energy projects in Germany that had been stuck in legal disputes. Furthermore, the directive simplifies repowering processes by limiting Environmental Impact Assessments to new additional impacts, expediting the procedure.

National governments will now have to digitalize permitting processes within two years of the revised directive taking effect, which could save time, money, and paper while providing greater visibility to all stakeholders. Implementation is now the focus, with some governments already adopting various aspects of the EU permitting acceleration measures. According to Giles Dickson, CEO of WindEurope, “Permitting bottlenecks continue to be one of the largest obstacles to the development of wind energy. We just won’t meet the new 42.5% renewables target without more permits issued more swiftly. The updated Renewable Energy Directive should significantly hasten the process.

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