New consultation on legislative changes relating to Norwegian onshore wind power

Proposal for changes to the Energy Act and the Planning and Building Act relating to onshore wind power sent for consultation.

In a new consultation paper, the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development and the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy have proposed changes to the Energy Act and the Planning and Building Act to strengthen the municipalities’ role in onshore wind power development. The consultation is a continuation of the Parliament’s decision to encourage the Government on a proposal to incorporate the planning and development of wind power plants into the Planning and Building Act.

The licensing process for wind power under the Energy Act is carried forward as a sound socio-economic weighing of all the advantages and disadvantages of the project. The consultation nevertheless entails a change in the decision-making processes. Until now, the municipalities have generally taken a position on wind power during the consultation of the licensing processes, while the formal plan clarification has taken place through dispensation or change of plan for land use in line with the given licence. The Norwegian Government is now proposing that an overarching clarification of land use shall be made in accordance with the Planning and Building Act through an area zoning plan before a license for wind power is granted.

By introducing real clarification of land use according to the Planning and Building Act, where area zoning plans must be in place before a license can be granted, the access to dispensation for wind power projects that currently applies today is significantly restricted. It should nevertheless be pointed out that, in exceptional cases, the requirement for area zoning plans can be waived where the overall area-related prerequisites are determined at the same level of detail as in an area zoning plan, for example, in a municipal master (partial) plan.

In the consultation, it is proposed that the Government should no longer be able to directly overrule the municipalities in cases where the municipality does not wish to regulate in accordance with the license or dispense from the plans for land use, by wind power developments being submitted as a central government land-use plan. It is our understanding of the proposed changes that the Government’s will only, in exceptional circumstances, be able to use the central government land-use plan for regulation. 

Furthermore, it is proposed to change the Planning and Building Act so that municipalities can demand private actors to prepare the area zoning plan for the area in question in order to quickly clarify whether it is relevant and possible to develop wind power in the area. Concurrently, The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) is wanted to have an expanded role in the planning process by being able to send the area zoning plan for consultation after discussion with the municipality.

Finally, a desire to ensure developers a predictable process is highlighted. The consultation paper, therefore, proposes an adjustment to the main principle of the municipalities’ regulatory power. The municipalities shall not be able to repeal or change the area zoning plan once it has been determined. If a license for wind power has been applied for under the Energy Act, the municipality cannot reverse its decision. In this way, developers who invest resources in applying for a license will not risk the regulation being changed by a new majority in the municipal council.

It is clear that the overall purpose of the Norwegian Government’s proposal for legislative changes is to give municipalities increased control and involvement in processes linked to the development of onshore wind power. Concurrently, as this provides a good basis for increasing the legitimacy of the processes and reducing the level of conflict linked to onshore wind power development, the proposal will weaken the possibility for the state authorities to implement measures based on national considerations. Although the proposal, as a main rule, implies a regulatory duty for the municipalities, it also gives considerable flexibility to those municipalities which, for various reasons, wish to hand over as much as possible of the processing of larger wind power plants to the energy authorities.

The deadline for commenting on the proposed changes is set for 27 February 2023.

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