Published on September 28th, 2012 | by Anneli Hidalgo0
Legal Advice – Permitting wind power
The Swedish wind power sector offers both market and technology potential. But there are several factors and permits that are or may be required when building a wind farm in Sweden.
There are many permits required before a wind farm can be set up. This is often a long process where several aspects must be taken into consideration, such as conservancy, cultural heritage, sea transport, or the possibility of camping and fishing. Before a company applies for permits it should consult the County Administrative Board, the municipalities, the local population and/or other individuals or parties that might be concerned, whether or not the location is appropriate. The number of stakeholders involved is therefore one of the key issues that may prolong the permission process.
“In order to set up a wind farm there are many aspects to consider and many conditions that need to be fulfilled. Each party should be given the possibility to present their point of view, which often takes several months. In addition, it can often take up to eight months or a year to get through the proceedings of the application. There can also be conflicts of interests that prolong the approval process,” says Nils Ryrberg, lawyer at Åberg & Co, a Swedish law firm specializing in environmental law.
ENVIRONMENTAL PERMIT REQUIRED FOR LARGER FARMS
As of August 1 2009, a building permit is no longer mandatory in Sweden under the Planning and Building Act if the wind farm or turbine requires a permit under chapters 9 or 11 of the Environmental Code. However, a building permit is still required in cases where the wind farm or turbine requires sole notification to the regulatory authority. The permit is also needed if the turbine 1) is taller than 20 meters, 2) is placed at a distance to the property line that is below the height of the turbine, 3) is placed on top of a building or 4) has a rotor diameter of more than three meters. A wind farm with more than six wind turbines, or more than two wind turbines with a height that exceeds 150 meters. requires permission according to the Swedish Environmental Code. A permit is also required if the wind turbines are to be built at sea.
“If it’s a smaller wind farm, you can normally obtain a building permit from the local authority,” says Nils Ryrberg. “But when it comes to larger wind parks, you have to contact the Environment Testing Delegation at the County Administrative Board. In most cases, an environmental permit and a concession suffice.”
The concession regards the installation and operation of high voltage power lines from the wind farm to the connection point in the electricity network, according to the electricity act. There are also guidelines on the noise level that must not be exceeded when building a wind farm. In residential areas, the noise level should not exceed 40 dBA (A-weighted decibels). In open-air recreational areas and areas with low background noise, the noise level should not exceed 35 dBA. However, if a local resident experiences that the noise level is too high even at 30 dBA, he or she can appeal the decision to build a wind farm in the vicinity. Therefore, the approval process can also be affected on an individual basis.
According to Nils Ryrberg, most applications are approved in the end. Should a wind farm not be given permission, a common reason is the issue of wildlife.
“For instance, if the company or the authorities discover that a family of eagles has built a nest in the area, there must be a distance of a few kilometers from the wind farm. Otherwise, you can’t proceed with the construction.”
Another regulation is that permits cannot be granted if the local authority hasn’t explicitly approved that the wind farm is to be constructed. This is a municipal veto that can only be broken if the project has been approved by the government. Before an approval for a wind farms a company is sometimes advised to apply for permission for the location from the Swedish Armed Forces. Over the past year there has been a debate in Sweden as several wind farms around the country have been denied permission. The Swedish Air Force does not approve wind turbines being built within a 40 kilometer radius of a military or civilian airbase. According to the trade organization for Swedish wind power companies, around 1,100 scheduled wind farms are affected by the Armed Forces recent decision to stop wind power around military airports.
“In the opinion of the wind power companies, these approval processes are very time consuming. There is also the question of confidentiality, which makes it even more difficult. But since wind turbines could affect air transportation, tracking stations and Doppler radars, this is of course a problematic issue,” says Nils Ryrberg.
“The key to having a successful wind farm is of course to have a location with good conditions for wind. But you can never get around questions of the environment and animal life. If you are going to run a wind farm this has to be built in a suitable place. Therefore, it is very important to consider the location at an early stage.”