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ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

Wind and solar development time could be halved

25/1/2023

Engineer wearing hard hat, standing by solar panels in solar farm Photo: Adobe Stock
Streamlining planning and permitting of utility-scale solar projects could see development times reduced from four years to just over one year, according to the Energy Transitions Commission

Photo: Adobe Stock

A new report has highlighted how governments, civil society and wind and solar developers can take action to reduce unnecessary delays caused by common planning and permitting barriers in renewables deployment.

Addressing time-costly planning and permitting policies is critical to ensuring the deployment of renewables at the speed and scale required to ensure rapid cuts to emissions, says the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) in its report. It estimates that the world could miss out on up to 3,500 TWh of clean electricity generation from wind and solar in 2030 (a shortfall of over 20%) due to such barriers.
 

The analysis shows that putting into place simple measures to streamline planning and permitting could reduce project times by more than half for wind and solar projects. Offshore wind project timelines could be reduced from 12 years to 5.5 years, onshore wind timelines could be reduced from 10 years to 4.5 years and utility-scale solar timelines could be reduced from four years to just over one year.
 

The report identifies three major categories of planning and permitting barriers – regulatory, administrative and societal; analysing the potential to shorten wind and solar development timelines at different stages of project development; and maintaining strong environmental and social safeguards.
 

Key actions in these areas include:

  • Regulatory – setting clear targets for power sector decarbonisation (eg by 2035) and the renewables and grids that will be required to meet this, assigning priority status to renewable energy projects, dedicating sufficient land, setting and enforcing streamlined permitting targets, allowing some permit flexibility (including minor changes to assigned permits), limiting legal challenges, and assigning clear property rights (where these are limited).
  • Administrative – creating ‘one-stop-shops’ for permitting, sufficiently staffing permit roles, digitalising the permitting process, and creating digital spatial mapping tools and environmental data banks to aid deployment planning.
  • Societal – ensuring effective stakeholder engagement, benefits-sharing with local communities, for example, in the form of shared community ownership schemes, ensuring access to clean electricity or reducing energy costs, improving aesthetics of renewable technology, managing socioeconomic and environmental impacts (particularly on biodiversity) for local communities.

 

National and regional governments, and policymakers, bear the largest responsibility for driving progress and taking bold action to drive renewables deployment by streamlining approvals processes, providing a vision for ambitious renewable deployment and deciding where renewable projects must take priority, says the ETC. In the short-term, they should prioritise solutions such as increasing the land available for wind and solar projects, applying the rule of positive silence to automatically grant permit applications after a period of time has elapsed, encouraging solar panel installations on all suitable public buildings, and ensuring sufficient staffing within permitting departments which can dramatically reduce delays.

 

Developers, local authorities and civil society also have a key role to play in delivering progress, according to the report. Wind and solar developers should effectively engage with stakeholders during project planning and construction to minimise environmental and social impacts and ensure benefits-sharing with local communities. Local authorities and civil society must also play a role in ensuring communities are appropriately informed, prepared and resourced to engage with renewable developments.

 

‘Urgent action is needed to deliver planning and permitting systems that will drive the transition to a net zero economy. Governments, developers and civil society need to work together to remove barriers and focus on reducing development times for vital wind and solar projects,’ comments Adair Turner, Chair of the ETC.