Society 20/10/2021

Catalan Government prioritises renewable energy projects with local backing

New decree seeks to avoid forced expropriation for wind farms or photovoltaic farms

3 min
Rubió wind farm

BarcelonaThe acceleration Catalonia needs in the implementation of renewable energy will require more dialogue and prior negotiation between developers and landowners where they want to locate wind farms and photovoltaic parks. Local councils will also have a greater say than they up until now, and both public and local entities will have the opportunity to participate, if they so wish, in a project that is proposed in their municipality or county. All this is included in the Catalan Government amended renewable energy decree, which it hopes to get approved next Tuesday.

Given the conflict the decree had sparked in many counties due to the avalanche of projects received –the Generalitat has 600 pending– the new text seeks ways to force companies to have to reach agreements locally if they want to speed up the processing and prevent delays. To start the processing of a project of over 5 MW and put up public notices, the develop will need to prove that it can obtain 50% of the land it needs without its owners objecting. This prior commitment between the parties (which is not more specific in the text) wants to avoid what had happened so far: many owners were unaware that a project the government was discussing affected them

Incidentally, if there is a prior agreement, the Government hopes to reduce the risk that, as the competent administration, ultimately having to expropriate lands for projects that meet all the requirements (power, location, urban and environmental) but have not obtained consensus. Renewable energy projects are considered to be of public utility and, therefore, in the name of this consideration granted by the law of state rank, expropriations can be carried out. These would have to be carried out by the Department for Climate Action on behalf of the developer. The process is more convoluted – less advantageous – for the company and may also mean that the affected party ends up receiving less money.

Involvement of local councils

The participation of municipalities and local authorities is another of the central points of the decree. All projects of between 5 and 50 MW – any larger ones must be processed directly by the ministry – will be required to prove that they have published an offer for locals to participate in at least 20% of the property. This offer can be addressed to individuals and legal entities, wither public or private, from the municipality where it will be set up or neighbouring ones in the same region. In the case of smaller projects (those of under 5 MW), the new legal framework gives them priority in the processing in the name of a "distributed and democratic energy transition".

One of the sticking points for many projects is their location on agricultural land. The decree protects those that, according to the classification included in the text, are of higher value for agriculture (Class I and II land). In cases of lower classification (III and IV), it also limits renewable projects, which may only occupy "10% of the unirrigated agricultural area of the county" and a maximum of 5% in the event that it is irrigated land.

Catalonia is behind in the implementation of renewable energy if it is to reach the objectives set by Europe. It now has to digest (analyze) the pile of projects that are accumulating on the Department for Climate Action's inbox, which will soon have 24 more technicians to do this work. The previous report, which was a first filter of projects and has resulted in 600 projects submitted, is, with the new decree, eliminated, and now all proposals for future wind and photovoltaic farms will have to comply with the new requirements if they want to go ahead.

Only the 9 projects (all photovoltaic) that have already been processed will not come under the new rules. The nine projects are the exception among the 436 that have been submitted so far, of which only 179 are considered viable. In addition, 163 wind farm projects were submitted, 53 of which are not viable.

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