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Licence application processing for onshore wind farms

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Norway features some of Europe’s best wind resources, and onshore wind power is the production technology with the lowest development cost in Norway. Continued onshore wind power development is therefore important in meeting the expected increase in Norwegian and European power consumption.

This article was last updated 16 January 2023.

Licence application processing for onshore wind power was suspended in April 2019. The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy (OED) announced in a letter to the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) of 8 April 2022 (in connection with the publication of the supplementary white paper Report No. 11 (2021-2022)) that licence application processing for new onshore wind power projects might be resumed, subject to host municipality consent.

The resumption of licence application processing for new projects comes in the wake of new regulatory framework guidance from Parliament. In connection with its deliberation of the white paper Report No. 28 (2019-2020), Parliament passed several petition resolutions calling for a tightening of the legal licensing framework for onshore wind power. Parliament petitioned, inter alia, for a number of key details to be clarified at an early stage of the licence application process, as well as for the Government to revert with a proposal for including wind farm planning and construction in the Planning and Building Act. Under the current regulations, only wind farms of less than 1 MW are subject to processing by the municipal administration under the Planning and Building Act. Wind farms in excess of 1 MW, on the other hand, require a licence under the Energy Act.

Increased municipal involvement in the planning and concession processes

Parliament then added, during its deliberation of the supplementary white paper Report No. 11 (2021-2022), an additional petition resolution in which it petitioned for new wind power projects to be subject to both the Energy Act and the Planning and Building Act. Processing under the Planning and Building Act would significantly increase municipal influence over wind power project design.

Parliament's petition resolutions were followed up by the government in January 2023, when a hearing was announced for proposed amendments to the Planning and Building Act and the Energy Act. The most notable of the proposed changes is that the planning process must be concluded, by way of passing a zoning plan, before a concession can be granted for a wind power plant. As a starting point, this provides municipalities with decisive influence with regard to whether a wind power plant shall be established within the municipality or not. In addition, it is proposed that the special provision on central government land-use plans for wind power plants is repealed. Until the proposed changes are passed, there is uncertainty with regard to how the regime will ultimately be designed. In any event, it is expected that municipalities will have a considerably increased influence over planning and concession processes for wind power going forward.

A further description of the government's proposal, as well as our comments on these matters, can be read here.

The NVE has also, in response to the abovementioned petition resolutions, submitted a comprehensive proposal for new impact assessment requirements and new standard terms and conditions for facility licences. The NVE is proposing that more details be clarified already in the facility licence, which has previously only specified the total installed capacity. It is now proposed that the facility licence shall in addition stipulate limits on the number of wind turbines, the distance to neighbours and the maximum turbine height, as well as further details on the wind farm’s grid connection. Such front-loading of the licence application process offers municipalities more predictability at an early stage of the licensing process, and may make it easier to gain acceptance for the projects from host municipalities.

The licensing process for onshore wind in brief

In view of the NVE’s latest proposal, and before any amendments to the Planning and Building Act and the Energy Act, the licensing process can currently be summarised as follows:

  1. Notification: All wind power projects with an installed capacity in excess of 10 MW require notification pursuant to the Impact Assessment Regulation. Such notification shall include a description of the project, as well as a provisional assessment of its potential environmental and societal impact. The notification is circulated for consultation to enable affected parties and other stakeholders to comment on the project at an early stage.
  2. Impact assessment: For wind power projects with an installed capacity in excess of 10 MW, the NVE shall compose an impact assessment programme (IA programme). The impact assessment shall uncover the potential negative environmental and societal impact of the project, and the assessment themes range from public security to the impact on Sami interests and natural diversity.

    The NVE’s proposal for new assessment requirements includes new assessment topics, including, inter alia, public health and bio-diversity. In addition, it proposes new assessment implementation requirements, as well as more detailed specifications of the assessment themes in the IA programme. These changes will give the NVE more influence over impact assessment implementation.

    It is the responsibility of the applicant to carry out the impact assessment based on the IA programme.
  3. Facility licence: After the impact assessment has been carried out, the applicant needs to prepare an application for a facility licence. The application shall provide a more specific and detailed account of the project and the impact assessment findings. The new requirement for more detailed facility licences means that more detailed planning will be needed prior to submission of the application.

    The application will be circulated for consultation, together with the case documents. Wind power development applications tend to elicit extensive consultative feedback.
  4. Decision and administrative appeal process: The NVE makes the decision on granting a facility licence, and stipulates any terms and conditions. Conditions may be imposed to, inter alia, alleviate any negative impact from the development that has been uncovered through the impact assessment. The decision may be appealed to the OED.
  5. Detail plan: Details that are not specified in the facility licence will subsequently be included in the detail plan. The detail plan shall describe the final layout of the wind farm, the land interventions and how the construction work shall be carried out. In the above-mentioned proposal for new standard terms and conditions for facility licences, the NVE is proposing that issues which were previously clarified in the Environment, Transport and Construction Plan (MTA plan) shall be addressed in an integrated detail plan. The detail plan must be approved before the construction work can commence.

    In addition to adhering to the facility licence and the approved detail plan, it is also necessary to clarify how these relate to municipal plans, the grid connection and, potentially, to obtain other government permits. The applicant must furthermore obtain the necessary rights under private law prior to the commencement of construction. The right to use land areas is particularly important. If the developer is unable to conclude agreements with all affected land owners, it will be necessary to effect a compulsory acquisition of rights, and a judicial appraisal must be conducted to determine the compensation amount.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you would like to know more about our role in facilitating onshore wind power.

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