On 13 January, the Støre administration announced a hearing for the long-awaited proposal for changes to the Energy Act and the Planning and Building Act. The proposal is crucial for resuming the licensing of onshore wind power projects, and essentially provides for greater influence by the municipalities in the planning and licensing processes.
The Government's consultation paper, which has been composed jointly by the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development and the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, is available here. The hearing deadline is 27 February 2023.
Most notably, the Government proposes in the consultation paper that the planning and zoning process must be concluded before a concession pursuant to the Energy Act may be granted for a wind power project. The planning and zoning process shall mainly consist of the development and passing of an area zoning plan (Nw: "områdereguleringsplan") for the wind power plant. The municipality thereby gains decisive influence with regard to whether wind power shall be established within the municipality's area.
From 2009 until today, there has been no obligation to pass a zoning plan for the areas which are utilised for wind power pursuant to a concession under the Energy Act. It has nonetheless been necessary to ensure that the development of wind power projects are compliant with existing area/land-use plans (Nw: "arealplan"), but in practice municipalities have granted dispensations from the relevant area/land-use plans when the wind power project has obtained a concession under the Energy Act. The criteria for granting a dispensation shall, according to the preparatory works for the Planning and Building Act, always be considered to be fulfilled when a concession pursuant to the Energy Act has been granted. In practice, municipalities therefore had limited rights of veto in terms of whether projects should be developed or not. As it is now proposed that a zoning plan under the Planning and Building Act must be obtained before a concession under the Energy Act can be granted, the municipalities are effectively given decisive influence over whether wind power projects shall be developed within the municipality or not.
The Government's consultation paper also contains the following main proposals:
- A proposal to give the municipalities the right to require that zoning plans for wind power plants are composed by private parties.
- A proposal to introduce restrictions in the ability to repeal or amend zoning plans for wind power plants (until after the construction deadline for the plant has been reached). This is an important step which is taken in order to ensure a certain degree of predictability for developers after zoning plans have been passed and the developer has applied for (or obtained) a concession pursuant to the Energy Act.
- A proposal that certain responsibilities in connection with the planning process are allocated to the Norwegian Energy Regulatory Authority (NVE).
- A proposal that the planning process must be concluded before a decision can be taken with regard to the concession.
- A proposal to repeal the special provision on central government area/land-use plans (Nw: "statlig plan"), which allows the ministry to decide that a concession under the Energy Act shall have the same effect as a central government area/land-use plan.
- Administrative appeals over the municipal planning decision shall be processed by the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development (and not the County Governor, as is the main rule for planning matters under the Planning and Building Act).
- The responsibility to coordinate and consult Sami interests in connection with the planning and concession process is allocated to the NVE.
It is signaled that the proposed amendments may be handled by Parliament before the summer of 2023.
It remains to be seen whether the proposed changes will lead to a more efficient concession process. However, the changes will hopefully clarify what regime shall apply for wind power going forward, and thus facilitate a resumption of the development and processing of new wind power projects.