Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Energy transition, if we permit

How bureaucracy hinders the 1.5 C Paris Agreement target

Photo by Christa Dodoo on Unsplash

The energy transition speeds up

As CO2 levels keep climbing, climate change effects intensify, the EU and US double down on energy transition targets. However, deploying still needs to catch up to the needs of the Paris Agreements: what factors delay the energy transition?

Delays are no longer economically driven

Renewable generation technologies were more expensive than fossil fuel generation. That situation completely changed: both solar PV and wind now display lower costs than fossil generation technologies.

Some headwinds come from a supply chain crunch and increasing prices in renewable feedstocks and products. These headwinds arise partly because of the fast growth of renewables, which production struggles to catch up.

Permitting delays the energy transition

However, one unexpected factor arose as a chokepoint: bureaucracy. Permitting new renewable plants can take up to nine years in some countries, so investors take pause.

It reached the point that the EU pushed consecutive legislations to fast-track permitting and works on yet another iteration.

Permitting is turning the primary chokepoint to decarbonization.

Permitting delays

There are two parts to this permitting problem:

  • One comes from actual physical and resource constraints
  • The other is sheer bureaucratic inertia.

Any explosive growth will stress existing capacity. Many PV and wind farms demand connection new connections to the grid. The number of plants and battery storage in the queue for grid connection is increasing in the US as the waiting times rose to 3.7 years.

Permitting takes too much time.

But some delays seem more challenging to explain. The European Union set a target of a maximum of 24 months to approve renewable energy projects: permitting can take five times more. Figure 1 shows the average times.

Figure 1: Permitting times in the EU (source)

Permitting delays and denials seem particularly questionable at the municipal and regional levels.

Intra-governmental squabbles delay permitting

A quarrel between the Regional Government Galicia in Spain and some of its municipal governments made it to the European Parliament and the European Commission.

A frustrated member of the European Parliament complained it took over a year to approve a simple license for housing renovation. He asked if the European Commission would “work with the municipal authorities” to ensure such situations did not hinder EU renovation policies.

Regional authorities in Apulia lost a court case over issuing blanket denials for PV farms on rural lands. The court ruled Regional Authorities should consider agrivoltaics proposals (which increase agriculture productivity or allow more sustainable crops while providing extra income for farmers).

In another case in Italy, in the Sicilian Region, A cultural heritage committee denied permitting a solar farm for aesthetic and cultural reasons.

The European Union strives to implement one-stop shops for renewable permitting to deal with this issue. But delays still happen. The shop makes it easier for proponents; It does not make the governmental bodies work faster.

In addition, it aims to consider all new projects as a public interest to speed up further permitting.

Final thoughts

Reaching the 1.5 C Paris Agreement target requires fast growth in renewable generation. The dire urgency of the situation seems only to permeate some governmental levels, lacking at a more local level.

Local governments must also understand the pressing climatic needs and work to accelerate permitting to ensure a transition to renewables at the required speed.



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Miguel Pacheco

Architect with scholarly background. Writing on the intersection of Buildings, Energy & Environment with People. Top writer in Energy and Transportation.