Wind Farms Now Come With the Threat of Jail
“Poland’s governing Law and Justice Party is proposing laws that would require new turbines to be situated away from homes, schools and natural reserves at a distance of more than 10-times their height.”
- Poland's proposed rules may cost industry $38 million a year
- Legislation would apply to existing renewable plants
By Jessica Shankleman
One of Europe’s most promising markets for renewable energy is being threatened by legislation that would impose new fees and potential jail terms for operators of wind farms, an industry lobby group said.
Poland’s governing Law and Justice Party is proposing laws that would require new turbines to be situated away from homes, schools and natural reserves at a distance of more than 10-times their height. That would be about 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles), according to data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The law also would subject existing wind farms to audits every two years.
The law would raise annual wind farm costs by as much as 150 million zloty ($37.6 million) even if no more turbines were built, according to the draft legislation. While the government is attempting to clamp down on rising electricity bills and empower communities concerned about the installations, the wind industry says the rules would choke off development and eliminate a clean source of electricity.
Poland’s plans “will tie projects up in red tape and make life difficult for developers by imposing arbitrary rules that serve no other purpose than to prevent wind turbine deployment,” said Oliver Joy, a spokesman for the European Wind Energy Association. “This draft law is a clear statement of intent and should not be allowed to stand.”
The government says it’s worried a surge in new installations is creating a conflict between communities and investors. It’s also seeking to curb subsidies for renewables and support its ailing coal industry, which has been undercut by falling commodity prices. While the country was among more than 195 nations that backed the Paris deal on climate change in December, it has sought a special status for coal and forecasts the fossil fuel will form a key component of its energy security for decades.
Piotr Naimski, the Polish government official in charge of supervising gas and power grids, said Thursday the country needs to adopt a strategy of letting renewables compete with coal-fired plants without subsidies. He wants to change the current merit system that gives wind power priority over coal generation, according to an interview with Biznesalert.pl.
Poland’s energy ministry declined to comment on the draft law.
Poland, Europe’s top coal producer, notched up the continent’s second-highest number of wind-power installations last year. Developers rushed to install 1.26 gigawatts of new capacity ahead of expected changes to government subsidies, that will require developers to bid in auctions for support. The country now has 5.1 gigawatts of installed wind capacity, equivalent to about 9 percent of the installed base in neighboring Germany.
“Poland has excellent wind resources and has the potential to be a European power house in wind energy,” The threat to imprison turbine operators for violating potential rules is “deeply concerning and misguided,” Joy said.
Concerning for the wind lobby group are rules embedded in the legislation that would require wind farm owners to pay fees for operating plants and sign up for a new permit every two years. Those who fail to comply might face prison sentences, and the rules would be applied retroactively to existing plants, said Joy.
Instead of imposing tough restrictions, the government may find ways to boost the benefits that communities enjoy from wind power, including opportunities to co-invest, said David Hostert, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“There are also a host of technical solutions available today to limit the impact of wind turbines, such as noise-reduction technology or automatically stopping the turbine at certain times of day to avoid flickering shadows on nearby properties,” he said.