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17 November 2022 | Article

Obstacles to wind projects identified - how can movement forward be achieved?

In order to identify the barriers to wind power projects, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment commissioned a study on barriers to wind power projects by FCG Finnish Consulting Group and published the results on 4 October 2022.

Meri-Katriina Pyhäranta
Obstacles to wind projects identified - how can movement forward be achieved?

The purpose of the study was to identify why several wind power projects have not been realised despite a positive opinion from the Finnish Defence Forces and how the probability of realisation could be improved. Both project developers and municipalities were interviewed for the study. The study found that the obstacles are linked by one essential factor: the acceptability of energy production. 

Finland has a huge amount of untapped wind power potential: in 2030, Finland could have as much as 30 TWh of wind power imports, up from around 8 TWh in 2021. The grid operator Fingrid estimates that around 1000 MW of additional wind power will be built in Finland every year. The realisation of wind power projects is therefore crucial for Finland's climate goals. Without a significant increase in wind power, Finland will not be able to achieve its goal of becoming the world's first fossil-free society, as set out in its government programme (10 December 2019). 

The preconditions for building wind power are excellent: wind power production is market-based, commercially viable and there are still untapped potential areas for wind power development in Finland. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has further increased the need for domestic energy production, and energy production is increasingly a matter of national security of supply as well as climate objectives. In other words, there is a need and a desire to build more wind power. In practice, however, wind power projects face a number of challenges during the development phase, which often slow down or, in the worst case, prevent the project from being realised. In particular, they are delayed by appeals against the plan, which can take years to be heard by the courts. This is not a matter of adversity for individual projects, but of a widespread phenomenon that is slowing down and substantially hampering the exploitation of wind energy potential throughout Finland. 

The FCG Finnish Consulting Group study shows that there are a number of regional reasons for project development, such as the density of residential and leisure settlements, the proportion of water bodies in a region, landforms and soil structure. In addition, the extent and capacity of the electricity network, in particular the 400 kV transmission network, determines where projects should be located geographically. Other key barriers to wind energy projects include landscape values, nature values, political or public opposition, coordination with other economic activities, stakeholders' experience of being excluded from project development, restrictive land-use decisions (e.g., the importance of the municipal wind power master plan) and competition between developers for the development of wind farms and the management of land suitable for wind farms. 

"Opposition to wind power has shown that the acceptable goal (producing fossil-free energy to mitigate climate change) does not justify in the minds of the public the means to achieve it." 

On the other hand, it is also clear that, in order to mitigate climate change, citizens need to rethink their attitude towards what we ourselves are prepared to do to limit the rise in global temperatures. 

Some of the identified barriers to wind energy projects can be overcome through more knowledge (e.g., more research and data on the habitats of endangered species), technical solutions (e.g., reinforcing Fingrid's grid to connect new wind generation) and harmonisation of regulatory procedures (e.g., consistent interpretation of guidelines and regulations). However, the study also noted the importance of the acceptability of wind power projects, as it found that factors such as a positive attitude of landowners towards wind power projects, a positive attitude of the municipality and local residents towards wind power, and open discussion and interaction with stakeholders are factors that increase the likelihood of project implementation. 

Ultimately, public attitudes towards wind power are a question of whether the various parties involved feel that the project is fair and acceptable to them and their environment. However, social acceptability cannot be imposed by legislation or guidelines; it is a much more complex, even psychological, phenomenon. But what can be done about it? Alongside the interdisciplinary approach, attention should be paid to the root causes of opposition to wind power. Who are those who mainly complain about planning and/or building permits for wind power projects, and what is their motivation for doing so? How could the number of appeals against wind projects be reduced so that they do not have to be dealt with by the courts on the current scale? With regard to compensation for land-use rights with landowners, could a model be found to serve as a reference for negotiations with landowners, so that all parties have a common understanding of the rights and obligations of the various parties, including the level of land-use compensation? 

It is clear that the right of appeal cannot, and should not, be abolished. However, while wind energy operators can play their part by participating, like other stakeholders, in an active debate to improve the acceptability of projects, the development of administrative processes is a task for public administrations. Clearly, more resources are needed to deal with complaints, but is this the only solution to the problem? What other ways could be found to improve and speed up the processing of complaints about wind power projects? 

The next step would be to clarify the underlying causes of the obstacles identified in the current report: what concrete objectives could realistically be set to remove them and who (project developers, municipalities, public administration, etc.) should be primarily responsible for taking action? How best practices can be implemented will obviously require an active and open debate between the different stakeholders and decision-makers. Without a coordinated and targeted approach, the 2030 targets risk remaining an unrealised potential. Not only for wind power, but also for the much-anticipated clean hydrogen economy, which depends on wind power. What is beyond dispute, however, is that activities critical to human life, let alone luxuries that count as amenities, cannot be sustained in the future without rotating wind turbines in our field of vision. 

 

The original text of this article was published on the website of Hannes Snellman Attorneys at:

 https://www.hannessnellman.com/news-views/blog/obstacles-related-to-wind-power-projects-have-been-identified-what-next-available-in-finnish/