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EU Sustainable Energy Week - environmental assessment and energy consenting

On 20 June the Scottish Government hosted a discussion looking at environmental assessment and energy consenting as part of EU Sustainable Energy Week events in Scotland House. Participants included representatives from DG ENER, DG ENV and EACI, Birdlife Europe, the European Wind Energy Association as well as representatives from the permanent representations in Brussels of various countries. Copies of the presentations for GP WIND are available at http://www.project-gpwind.eu/. Those for the morning event are attached below, alongside a paper on the planned revision of the EIA Directive.

There were several common conclusions that emerged from both the morning event focusing on Environmental Assessment, and the afternoon event focused on the GP WIND project, which we hope can help the EU’s ongoing policy development in this area.

Firstly, there was a strong message on the need for ongoing flexibility in the implementation and reform of EU environmental legislation to meet renewable energy targets. Many of the examples given talked about the benefits of streamlining processes – with particular opportunities identified for improving value and reducing duplication of assessment by improving synergies between EIA and SEA. The presentations also demonstrated the very broad range in scale of projects for which EIA is undertaken, and there is a clear need for legislation which is proportionate and avoids undue burden, particularly on Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs). 

The sessions also highlighted that effective environmental assessment is as much about culture and behaviour as it is about legislation.  This then highlighted a second key conclusion - that ensuring good practice does not always require new law - with the case study examples in the GP WIND project demonstrating what can be achieved within the EU’s existing environmental and energy acquis. Many participants across the two events gave examples of the innovative approaches being taken in their own countries.

Finally, there was a strong recognition that the decision-making environment for large-scale energy projects is highly complex for all stakeholders, requiring clear leadership and a proportionate approach to implementation of legislation. Participants noted that there are often tradeoffs required for the delivery of major projects, and that EIA should help to clarify and distil that process and give a rationale for it. Both events highlighted that energy permitting or EIA is not only about the process itself, and that it needs to be proportionate if it is to meet better regulation objectives and the challenging delivery times of the EU’s renewables targets. This risk could be best managed through streamlined processes and strong leadership from Ministers and decision makers / professionals. 

There was discussion of the potential difficulties with reconciling the need to take forward groundbreaking developments and the need to deal with any remaining uncertainty that can exist around the impacts of these developments, even after comprehensive surveying and assessment, within the provisions of the EU environmental acquis.

The Scottish Government looks forward to taking part in a continuing debate around these issues and working with the European Commission and other partners to ensure that the European Union’s 2020 targets are met in an efficient and sustainable way.

Papers and Presentations