Permitting Processes for Renewable Energy Plants Being Streamlined

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On 4 January 2020, Parliament passed the Act on permit granting processes and certain other administrative procedures for renewable energy plants (1145/2020) (in Finnish laki uusiutuvan energian tuotantolaitosten lupamenettelyistä ja eräistä muista hallinnollisista menettelyistä) with the purpose of streamlining and speeding up the permitting processes and certain other administrative procedures for renewable energy plants. The act will enter into force on 30 June 2021.

The new act will enable developers of renewable energy plants to handle their project’s permitting and other administrative procedures listed in the act in a centralised manner through one electronic contact point. Furthermore, the act lays down firm time limits for the maximum duration of permitting processes and other administrative approval procedures for renewable energy plants (i.e. electricity production plants).

The act does not amend the contents of or requirements for the actual permit granting processes or other administrative procedures for renewable energy plants.

The act nationally implements the regulations concerning the organisation and duration of the permit granting process for renewable energy plants provided for in the EU directive on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources (EU) No 2018/2001 (RED II).

Electronic Service and Centralised Guidance for Renewable Energy Plants

In the future, the project developer of a renewable energy plant (the applicant) will not be forced to deal separately with many different authorities depending on what permit or approval they are applying for.

Going forward, the applicant can apply through a single electronic contact point for the permits and other administrative approvals listed in the act to build and repower the plant, to connect the plant to the grid and to operate it.

The electronic contact point is administered by one contact point authority, which is the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment for South Ostrobothnia (ELY Centre). However, permit matters are still resolved by the competent authority specified in the legislation applicable to the permit matter.

As the contact point authority, the ELY Centre for South Ostrobothnia is also obligated to advise applicants in procedural questions (e.g. questions relating to the initiation of a matter and the stage of a procedure) and to give applicants guidance relating to the handling of an administrative matter in cooperation with the competent authority through the electronic contact point.

The applicant can still deal directly with the competent permit authority instead of using the electronic contact point if they so wish.

Time Limits for Permitting and Approval Processes

The act lays down the maximum total duration for the permit processes and other administrative approval procedures for renewable energy plants listed in the act:

The time limits mentioned above only apply to power plants (i.e. plants producing electricity) and not, for instance, to heating plants or renewable fuel plants. However, the act does not define how much of the plant’s total energy production must be electricity production.

The applicable permit processes include, among other things, environmental permits, water permits, permits to deviate from the protection of certain aquatic habitat types and other habitat types, flight obstacle permits, permits to build high voltage cables, consent to build in the Finnish Exclusive Economic Zone, building, action and demolition permits and permits and deviations in areas requiring planning that are handled in connection with the building permit procedure.

The time limit begins to run when the applicant initiates the first applicable permitting process or approval procedure and ends when the last decision on an applicable permitting process or approval procedure has been delivered to the applicant. Thus, the time limit includes all stages of the process from initiation to the notification of the decision, including time limits for supplementing the application and statutory hearings. The applicant is not required to initiate all processes at the same time. However, the time limit does not include the appeal period or the time before the applicant has an applicable matter pending relating to the permitting process. The application of the time limits does not depend on whether the applicant uses the electronic contact point or deals directly with the competent authority.

In certain situations, the time limit set for the total duration can be extended by the same time that certain processes listed in the act require, including appealing a decision on an applicable permit or approval process. Furthermore, the contact point authority can grant a discretionary extension not exceeding one year to the time limit due to exceptional circumstances.

As the contact point authority, the ELY Centre for South Ostrobothnia is obligated to monitor the realisation of the time limits laid down in the act for the duration of permit processes. There are no sanctions for the authorities for exceeding the time limits, but the applicant can resort to general remedies, such as filing an administrative complaint or a complaint to the supreme guardians of the law. Whether or not the binding time limits will actually shorten the authorities’ processing times with respect to plants producing electricity from renewable sources remains to be seen once the act is implemented.