Renewable Energy Projects: SEAI to be appointed as Contact Point for Permit-Granting Process
We recently looked at the EU’s proposals under REPowerEU, which include speeding up the permit-granting process for renewable energy projects. These proposals seek to build on some of the existing requirements under the Renewable Energy Directive (EU) 2018/2001.
One of the existing requirements is that Member States set up or designate one or more contact points to, upon request by the applicant, guide through and facilitate the entire administrative permit application and granting process. The permit-granting process covers the relevant administrative permits to build, repower and operate plants for the production of energy from renewable sources and assets necessary for their connection to the grid. Applicants are not required to contact more than one contact point for the entire process. The contact point is required to guide the applicant through the application process in a transparent manner up to the delivery of one or several decisions by the responsible authorities, provide the applicant with all necessary information and involve, where appropriate, other administrative authorities. The contact point should make available a manual of procedures for developers of renewable energy projects and provide that information online, addressing distinctly also small-scale projects and renewables self-consumers projects.
A single contact point has now been provided for under Irish law. The European Union (Renewable Energy) Regulations (2) 2022 (S.I. 350/2022) require the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications to appoint the SEAI (Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland) as the single contact point for the permit application and granting process in respect of applications related to renewable energy. The SEAI shall, upon request by the applicant, provide guidance to them throughout the administrative permit application and granting process including information on: (i) the consideration and granting of consent by a relevant planning authority; (ii) the issuance of a licence to generate and authorisation to construct by a regulatory authority; and (iii) the issuance of a grid connection offer by the relevant system operator. The provision does not confer on the SEAI a role in the decision-making processes. The SEAI is required to make available a manual of procedures for developers of renewable energy production projects, addressing distinctly small-scale projects and renewables self-consumers projects.
Contact points, sometimes referred to as “one-stop shops”, may have initially been more widely conceptualised, with the language in the original proposal for the Renewable Energy Directive indicating they would “coordinate the entire permit granting process” and “coordinate and involve, where appropriate, other authorities, and deliver a legally binding decision at the end of the process”. The final version of the Directive indicates (in recitals) that the single contact point should guide the applicant and facilitate through the entire administrative process so that the applicant is not obliged to contact other administrative bodies in order to complete the permit-granting process, “unless the applicant prefers to do so”. It therefore seems to be contemplated that multiple channels of communication may remain open. In Ireland, it is critical that any new processes live up to the intent of the Directive, which states (in recitals) that providing guidance to applicants throughout their administrative permit application and granting processes by means of an administrative contact point is intended “to reduce complexity for project developers and increase efficiency and transparency”. Few would disagree with the need to streamline and expedite the permit-granting process (particularly for planning permission and grid connection) if Ireland is to meet its significant renewable energy and GHG emissions reduction targets.
As significant are the timelines expressed in the Renewable Energy Directive which state that the permit-granting process shall not exceed two years for power plants. Further, Member States are required to facilitate the repowering of existing renewable energy plants by ensuring a simplified and swift permit-granting process, which shall not exceed one year (albeit that, where duly justified on the grounds of extraordinary circumstances, these periods may be extended by up to one year). One of the REPowerEU amendments, if passed into law, would require the contact point to ensure fulfilment of these deadlines for permit-granting procedures.