EVIA, Greece, July 21 (Reuters) - Climber Tassos Baltas
points up at a 22-metre high mast which is monitoring wind
speeds on the summit of a rocky hillside on the Greek island of
Evia and declares, "This mast which has been installed next to
us is an omen of catastrophe."
The mountaineer's views are one of a host of obstacles to
efforts to boost wind power across the European Union.
As parts of Europe reel from devastating flooding and
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel says governments must
redouble their efforts to tackle the impact of climate change,
developers and governments are racing to capture green power
investment. They are running into local opposition, bureaucratic
red tape and legal tangles in the permitting process - to the
point where the EU is veering off track for its
emissions-cutting goals, wind industry data show.
The EU has unveiled ambitious plans to cut carbon dioxide
emissions by 55% by 2030, which will mean renewable sources in
its energy generation should increase to 40%. For that, it needs
27 GW of new wind capacity - enough to meet almost one third of
European electricity demand - to be installed every year.
That's nearly double the 15 GW currently put in place
annually, according to WindEurope, an association that
represents the industry in Europe.
The drive to speed up renewable energy is pitting greens
against each other. Theodota Nantsou, policy director for the
World Wide Fund for Nature in Greece, said the country decided
belatedly to shut down its coal plants and is now racing to
build up renewables at the risk of hurting its biodiversity.
Last year, WindEurope says, the EU and Britain invested 43
billion euros ($51 billion) in new wind farms - the second
highest annual amount on record after 2016. Banks lent over 21
billion euros for the construction of new wind farms - the most
"The problem is not money: there is lots of money
available," said Giles Dickson, the association's chief
executive. "The problem is the projects: we are not getting
enough new permitted projects coming through."
The EU Commission has recognised that. The EU's renewable
energy directive says it should not take more than two years to
grant a permit for a power plant, or three in extraordinary
But these timelines have yet to be fully implemented.
The Commission says it is trying to speed things up.
However, some of its plans need to be negotiated by 27 EU
countries and the European Parliament. That itself can take
around two years.
Worldwide, according to the Global Wind Energy Council, new
wind capacity needs to be installed at about twice the current
rate if the globe is to meet a goal in the Paris Agreement
climate pact of limiting temperature rise to below 2 degrees
Celsius this century.
"I think (permitting) is one of the key factors that could
potentially slow down the energy transition," Miguel Stilwell de
Andrade, chief executive of Portuguese energy company Energias
de Portugal (EDP) SA which develops renewable energy,
such as wind and solar, told Reuters.
"If we want to meet the Paris Agreement targets we really
need to find a way of making sure that permitting is efficient,
On Evia, Baltas and other Greek campaigners object to eight
new wind farms, planned to span 80 km (50 miles) over an area
which encompasses a pristine fir forest overlooking the Aegean.
They say it will ruin acres of ancient forests, and turn a
largely agricultural region into an industrial zone.
They are also fighting the fact that the Greek government,
trying to avoid the delays that hobble some developments,
fast-tracked the application to build 100 turbines, adding to
600 already in place on the island.
Greece, aiming for renewables to help transform the
country's economy, wants to shorten its permitting process to
about two to three years, the government says. That's down from
the eight years more typical for such schemes in Greece,
according to the Hellenic Wind Energy Association, which
represents the industry.
As falling costs have made wind power attractive, there's an
incentive to move fast. According to the International Renewable
Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organisation that supports
countries in their transition to sustainable energy, the overall
cost of new projects both onshore and offshore roughly halved in
the decade to 2020.
This is visible in places like Evia, which has high winds
from the Caucasus and Aegean Sea and is only about 80 km from
the mainland power grid.
"There is a very strong interest in renewable energy
sources," said Greece's Secretary General for Energy Alexandra
Sdoukou. Greece hopes renewable energy will help secure power
ahead of a shutdown of coal-fired plants by 2025.
Other countries are also trying to streamline procedures to
help win access to some of the EU's 750 billion euro
post-pandemic recovery fund - which will only be disbursed if
projects move ahead.
Greece's fast-track process is no guarantee of a license,
the government's investment agency said. An environmental impact
assessment will happen later.
Elsewhere in the EU, it can take as long as a decade for
wind projects on land to be greenlighted, case studies provided
by the industry show. In at least one country, Sweden, the Wind
Energy Association says it's not unusual for the process to take
even longer, because municipalities can vote on projects and
there is no legal deadline for appeals processes to end.
For offshore projects, negotiations with businesses such as
fishing, tourism and shipping mean the permitting processes can
take up to six years, said Jonathan Cole, head of offshore wind
at Spanish energy company Iberdrola SA. For projects on
land, problems range from rules that require turbines to be
certain distances away from buildings to local disputes.
In one case in Germany, WindEurope said, permissioning was
so slow that by the time the farm was greenlighted, the turbine
model in the plans was obsolete. Updated height restrictions
meant the developer had to dismantle part-built foundations, as
well as persuading the manufacturer to revive an old model.
In another German example, renewables developer Abo Wind AG
applied to build a wind project south of Frankfurt in
2016. The plan was initially rejected due to a risk to black
stork habitats. After back-and-forth legal actions and appeals
with the local authority, the company says the wind farm will be
built next year.
"This project is a prime example of why wind power expansion
in Germany suffers," said ABO Wind executive Kristof Frank.
"Courts are overburdened and there's not enough personnel to
quickly handle the numerous processes."
A spokeswoman for Germany's economic affairs ministry said
almost half Germany's electricity is supplied by renewable
sources, but that Germany must accelerate the implementation of
green energy. This will be the task of the next government, she
added. The current government has pushed four laws to speed up
new infrastructure through parliament, but nothing major has
Germany does not have enough qualified experts in local
administration, people in the industry say. And when its strong
environmental laws slow down new wind farms, they divide the
Italy is the biggest recipient of the EU's recovery
resources. To meet targets agreed under the EU's Green Deal plan
to become the first climate-neutral continent, it needs to add
at least 7 GW of renewable capacity every year, compared with a
recent average of less than 1 GW per year. It has identified
almost 60 billion euros of projects for that funding.
But a group of European renewable energy associations says
almost half of all renewables projects are abandoned in the
country, and the other half subject to six years of permitting
Italy's energy transition minister Roberto Cingolani said
the consequences of delays will be far-reaching.
"If we don't get the permits, we'll be late in reaching the
goal of having 72% of our electricity generated from renewables
by 2030," Cingolani told Reuters.
"So we won't be able to press ahead with plans to replace
furnaces, produce green hydrogen, and generate electricity for
Spending on the permitting process can run into tens of
millions of euros, people in the industry say.
Delays are starting to deter investment.
"We could invest more in certain countries in Europe if we
had better visibility on the permitting timeline," said Carlo
Zorzoli, head of business development for the green power unit
of Italy-based utility Enel SpA, which has the biggest
capacity for renewable energy of any listed company worldwide.
He declined to name the countries he was referring to.
Generally, wind industry groups say authorities are
scrutinising projects more carefully, but permitting agencies
have not been expanded enough: "The permitting agencies are
often under-resourced and with the market growing faster than
was ever expected it's going to be hard for them to keep up,"
said Iberdrola's Cole.
The EU Commission is proposing one body be made responsible
for coordinating permits of some offshore projects. But that
proposal needs to be negotiated by EU countries and the European
Rather than wait, Greece plans to hire certified private
evaluators, the country's energy ministry said in May.
Evia's opposition groups have rallied.
"To appeal against the project at the court, we have
collected money by talking to local residents, shopkeepers,
hotels, farmers with environmental concerns, beekeepers," said
"And we did that rather fast."
($1 = 0.8499 euros)
(Angeliki Koutantou reported from Evia, Nina Chestney reported
from London, Stephen Jewkes from Milan; Additional reporting
from Markus Wacket in Berlin, Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt,
Kate Abnett in Brussels, Isla Binnie in Madrid and Tim Barsoe in
Copenhagen; Edited by Veronica Brown and Sara Ledwith)