Summary of the “Green municipality – RES as an opportunity for rural areas” conference.
On 12 December 2019 the Ministry of Development gathered representatives of central administration, local self-government units and wind power investors. The conference under the auspices of the Association of Polish Rural Municipalities and PWEA, and under Honorary Patronage of the Ministry of Development, discussed primarily the legal, economic and social consequences of location restrictions under the 2016 Wind Turbine Act. A lot of attention was given to one of the most controversial provisions of the law, defining the minimum distance (setback) from wind turbines to housing and selected forms of environmental protection as 10 times the total (tip) height of the turbine – the so-called 10H rule. The discussion on the impact of this provision for the national and local economy has dominated the sessions and the discussion panel, and was held in the context of the recently published Code of Good Practice (CGP), a document prepared by the wind industry under the auspices of PWEA, containing a number of tools for development of wind projects with acceptance of the local community.
Potential for development of wind and solar power in rural areas
The event was opened by Janusz Gajowiecki, PWEA President. He highlighted the enormous importance of cooperation between local and central government for the just transition of the Polish energy sector. The development of RES potential is necessary to keep the expected electricity price increases under control and to carry out the transition to a low-carbon economy. Keeping the decision-making powers on planning within the municipalities is also of key importance. This will help improve energy security in the regions and provide better energy supply in areas with less-developed power infrastructure.
The representative of the event’s co-organizer, office director of the Association of Polish Rural Municipalities, Paweł Tomczak, noted that RES deployment significantly contributes to the development of rural areas and to their energy security. The effects of investments in renewables include keeping the investment capital on-site, creation of new jobs, diversification of employment, stabilization of electricity prices. It is also one of the factors stimulating the development of municipalities.
Hanna Uhl, deputy director of the Department of Low Carbon Economy, representing the Ministry of Development, on behalf of the Minister of Development, Jadwiga Emilewicz, emphasized that the energy transition expected in Poland is necessary, and the discussion only applies to its pace, method of implementation and ways of funding. The ministry has commissioned a number of scenarios of energy transition in Poland, all of which assume joint effort from various ministries to increase the deployment of renewable energy sources (RES) for the purpose of energy security. Their development in rural areas, similarly to areas designated for development of heavy industries, is a challenge. That is why legislative changes are necessary in order to help reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in rural areas. For example, the works are underway on reduced VAT tax for RES installations on non-residential buildings, and legal framework for energy cooperatives is under development. The industry has declared its openness to the requests of municipalities regarding other needs of local governments in this respect.
Ireneusz Zyska, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Climate, encouraged the attendees to take action in the field of renewables and distributed energy generation, and to establish clusters and co-operatives. In parallel to the event, the Minister of Climate, Michał Kurtyka, together with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, started the negotiations of the New Green Deal in the European Council in Brussels. The vice-minister compared the current perception of renewables to the Copernican Revolution. He emphasized that Poland was an ambitious member of the European Union and it wanted to be in the avant-garde of the transition towards “RES monism” by 2050. Technology advancement gives hope for implementation of these ambitious goals. Multilateral cooperation between ministries is also essential, therefore a Parliamentary Team for Energy and Climate was established in order to provide a parliamentary platform for discussions about RES, with the aim of introducing changes to improve the quality of life of Polish citizens. The ministry already runs multiple projects supporting RES development in rural areas, including “Mój prąd” (My electricity), which helped increase the number of prosumer installations to 160,000, as well as “Agroenergia” with PLN 200m allocated, including PLN 80m for subsidies and PLN 120m for preferential loans for funding of PV installations, among others. The development of biogas plants is also very important. Biogas installations up to 1 MW can now be development virtually without any limitations, and legislative work is underway to facilitate the development of larger installations as well. The Minister noted that CO2 emissions reduction in agriculture is key to keep food prices at their current level, which is necessary to maintain Poland’s status as leader of food exports in Europe. The ministry also acknowledges the importance of development of energy clusters and co-operatives in rural areas, and stimulates the development of medium- and low-voltage grids, microgrids and smart grids. The grid infrastructure will allow for internal balancing of cluster as autonomous energy regions, in order to improve energy security and reduce prices for consumers. We have a chance to become carbon-neutral by 2050, but it will come at a cost. Out of all European countries, the costs of modernization of the Polish system can be the highest. The vice-minister said that Poland’s strength were stakeholders with intellectual capital and potential, such as PWEA and other industry organizations. Together with the government, financial institutions, funds, PFR and NFEPWM, he declared to take the effort of the aforementioned Copernican Revolution to improve the quality of life of Polish citizens. It is about letting them live in a clean environment, something to be praised by future generations.
During the first presentation panel, Magdalena Sobczyńska, PWEA’s working group representative, presented the concept of the Code of Good Practice. She stressed that the rules and actions described in the code were not just postulates and wishes for the future, but rather a collection of actual experiences of wind farm investors in Poland. The Code contains an appendix devoted to public consultations in municipalities, being a practical tool both for investors and local governments. In her opinion, cooperation with local authorities often determines the project’s success; therefore it is key to map the stakeholders, their needs and expectations, as well as their potential involvement in the development of the project, in order to prepare an adequate communication strategy. Honesty, openness, willingness to cooperate, responsibility and transparency are fundamental attitudes, allowing for convincing arguments to be conveyed in a dialogue on equal footing. Building acceptance during the implementation of the project requires an approach suitable for a multi-generation project.
Janusz Gajowiecki, President of PWEA, highlighted the dynamic changes taking place in the Polish power system (KSE) and the expectations for its further modifications. Wind power, as an increasingly important source of generation, is currently also the most dynamically developing RES technology due to its price competitiveness. Currently available wind turbines allow for a same level of energy production using a smaller number of machines than several years ago, which significantly reduces the acoustic effects and the impact on animals. With all these advantages taken into account, last year’s auctions demonstrated that wind has currently no competition among other technologies. This is one of the reasons why, thinking about the future and the expected transformation of the Polish energy sector, PWEA actively supports the Coal Regions in Transition programme, whose aim is to develop the human resources and competences necessary in the wind power industry in regions associated mostly with conventional energy, as well as to develop the local supply chain for RES.
Grzegorz Wiśniewski, CEO of Institute for Renewable Energy, defined the leading aspects of the impact of wind and solar technology on the energy management of municipalities and the entire country. Both technologies create opportunities for a diversified development of rural areas. At the same time, however, they generate different revenues to the budgets and different levels of the use of space. In case of PV projects, there a currently ca. 2.2 GW of feasible, planned capacity, out of which 808 MW have obtained building permits. Feasible PV projects are evenly distributed on Poland’s map, whereas wind projects are mostly present in the western part of the country. There is almost 7.5 GW in wind projects. Both technologies also experience significant drops in energy generation costs. The problem lies in lack of resources for integrated planning works and supply of funds for own tasks of municipalities. The deficiencies of the power infrastructure also make it impossible to fully develop the existing potential in all locations. Although local governments are getting better in harnessing the possibilities of prosumer energy development, they still do not fully utilize the resources of municipal companies under their control. In his opinion, increasing the role of self-governments in the programming period, strengthening the municipal companies, creating microgrids, as well as PPAs and promotion of municipalities among investors interested in RES development may help fully utilize the existing potential for RES development in municipalities.
In the second part of the event, a panel discussion was held with participation of:
• Hanna Uhl, deputy director of the Low-Carbon Economy Department at the Ministry of Development,
• Piotr Czopek, director of the Department for Renewable and Distributed Energy at the Ministry of Energy,
• Grzegorz Wiśniewski, CEO of the Institute for Renewable Energy,
• Arkadiusz Sekściński, CEO of PGE Energia Odnawialna S.A.,
• Janusz Piechocki, Mayor of Margonin,
• Leszek Kuliński, Mayor of Kobylnica,
• Andrzej Kaźmierski, PWEA’s expert,
• Janusz Gajowiecki, PWEA President.
Hanna Uhl, deputy director of the Department of Low-Carbon Economy at the Ministry of Development stated that it was possible for the 10H regulation to be revised. Such a statement is backed by the knowledge about offshore wind farm not being capable of fulfilling the entire demand of the Polish power system and of meeting the RES production targets. Therefore we will have to allow for development of onshore wind. The first steps to revise the setback requirements are currently being prepared, but they pose a certain challenge in terms of organization and formal issues due to the need of consultations between ministries. A similar formula was used to establish a team for facilitating investments in prosumer energy.
Piotr Czopek, director of the Department for Renewable and Distributed Energy at the Ministry of Energy, reminded that the reason for the introduction of the 10H rule was protests. He called for analysis of the origin of their appearance and pointed to the possibility of improper development of some of the projects. At the same time he stressed that lack of acceptance for large infrastructure projects is a problem faced by all industries. The NIMBY (not in my backyard) syndrome is demonstrated by acceptance of various investment projects by local communities, but not in their direct vicinity. That is why it is worth raising people’s awareness about the impacts of wind power development and discussing the topic with them. Involvement of people of all opinions, including sceptical ones, will allow for compromise. It is also important to disseminate the positive examples of project development and sharing such experiences by investors.
Andrzej Kaźmierski stressed that the 10H rule has a planning character rather than energy-related. The legislation was drafted in the area of infrastructure and planning. Now it lies within the competences of the Ministry of Development and the Ministry of Energy (the competences of the latter will be taken over by the Ministry of Climate in the new government structure), but it is mostly a planning-related issue. The ministries were visited by organizations of both opponents and supporters. The discussions were difficult, and the interactions – lively. That is why it is necessary to remember about adequately addressing these issues at the early stage of the project, when there are most concerns. The Code of Good Practice can help with that. It is a very strong tool to assess whether a project is developed in a correct way. Most of the projects are excellent. According to the expert, the main factor changing the people’s attitudes towards onshore wind power are energy prices. Dropping prices of energy from RES, combined with reconstruction of infrastructure, tax revenues and PPAs, should make it possible to fully develop the potential of wind in the regions.
Arkadiusz Sekściński, CEO of PGE E.O. pointed out that PGE has Poland’s largest wind portfolio of 555 MW and a number of projects that had to be frozen after 2016. A dialogue with the general public is necessary in order to gain acceptance for these projects. Protests are often initiated by people who feel neglected in the project development process. He advised for the discussions about the investor’s involvement not to be focused only on property tax, although these amounts are significant. The acceptance does not also depend on the amount of lease fees for land owners, which are more favourable in case of wind turbines than for PV. He concluded by expressing his hopes for reassessment of these issues, highlighting that the finally adopted solutions do not have to be black-and-white – it is important to have a constructive approach along the spirit of: investments in RES bring challenges, not problems.
Grzegorz Wiśniewski from IEO indicated how RES could develop without artificial restrictions. We are a farming country, as ca. 70% of Poland’s area is covered by farmland; we also have low population density. However, RES in Poland are not developing as dynamically as in our western neighbour, despite theoretically more favourable conditions. We have a lot of space that can be used, but we do not allow these resources to work. RES reduces costs in the economy, and by restricting the development of RES we may lose the competitiveness of our energy sector. Unlocking the development of RES in necessary for the economy and for the climate. People have to know that RES development is important and strategic for the entire country. And they should be proud that they are building a responsible energy sector. Then the number of protests will drop and the projects will be developed quickly.
Potential for development of wind and solar power in rural areas
In the second panel of the conference Magdalena Sobczyńska from Novenergia presented her experiences and recommendations regarding discussions with stakeholders in municipalities, referring again to the Code of Good Practice. The document covers active participation in the life of local communities at every stage. She stressed that image-related issues are of absolute key importance for large projects. During project preparation one of the most important issues is communication and public consultation, envisaged by the legislator at the stage of local zoning plan for the project and in the procedure for the decision on environmental conditions for the project. She recommended for those consultations to be carried out in a broader scope than the one specified by the regulations. It is important to remember about cooperation with the local community and supporting its development. This may mean the investor’s involvement in construction or repairs of sports, road or power infrastructure. The investor should also try to use the local supply chain as much as possible. Thanks to a multi-faceted approach, the Code is a universal tool, and its guidelines can also be used for other infrastructure projects, which may help both investors and local governments in running an efficient and constructive dialogue with all stakeholders of the process.
Jacek Szulczyk from Eko-Pomiar presented the opportunities related to repowering of wind projects and its impact on acoustic environment in municipalities. Repowering, which is not allowed under the current regulations, has a positive effect both for the production efficiency and for the environment and the local community. It is related to replacing existing machines with larger, more efficient and quieter units. This stems from various levels of noise reduction: less sources in cumulative impact, more advanced mechanisms, lower rotational speed, leading to lower noise (NRS – reduction of turbine revolutions and generated noise, toothed blade edges: dinotails, STE).
Piotr Woźny, President of the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management (NFEPWM) pointed to numerous supporting schemes facilitating RES development and air quality improvement. There is a possibility to support national-scale activities from priority programmes of the National Fund and from OPI&E (Operational Programme Infrastructure and Environment). In turn, regional-scale programmes are supported from Regional Environmental Protection Funds and from Regional Operational Programmes. There are also resources for e-mobility available from Norwegian funds and EEA grants. The NFEPWM President presented selected support programmes in more detail. “Mój Prąd” (“My Electricity”) is a programme for PV micro-installations operating under a comprehensive contract. He summarized that over the first 100 days of the programme’s implementation PLN 65m was provided as support for ca. 13,500 PV installations. Another programme discussed was “Czyste Powietrze” (“Clean Air”), allowing for synergies in activities related to replacement of generation sources with cleaner ones compliant with the programme criteria, as well as improving the efficiency of their use by thermal improvement. Attention was drawn to simplicity of procedures in such programmes, contributing to increasing number of participants and their improved distribution, translating to improved air quality. Another promising programme is “Energia Plus” (“Energy Plus”) with preferential loans for entrepreneurs. It appears that the future of the energy sector in the regions is about county district heating systems, further optimisation in terms of air quality improvement, prosumer energy and island energy independence, including financial engineering.
During the last workshop panel Michał Kaczerowski, CEO of Ambiens Sp. z o.o. pointed out that distance regulations do not properly reflect local features and do not correspond to actual environmental impact of wind turbines. He stressed that some form of public resistance or protests appears with most infrastructure projects, including those in the energy sector. The distance regulation is not adjusted to specific local features, and is also an obstacle for the wind industry in every possible option (as defined distance or as multiple of turbine height).
The dramatic effect of this regulation is demonstrated by sudden halt to increase of installed capacity in wind observed since the entry into force of the distance regulation in 2016. The conclusion is that this provision should be lifted.
The dramatic consequences for planning management in municipalities were presented in detail by urban planner Filip Sokołowski from Urban Consulting. He presented the issues with development of settlements near existing and planned wind farms resulting from the discussed legislation. One of major deficiencies of the current regulations is their independence of accumulated impact. The speaker stressed that the distance parameter is not supported by research; it excludes the development of projects, at the same time negatively impacting the development of housing. Based on Poland’s satellite imagery, 290 municipalities have operating wind farms in their territories, but as many as 457 municipalities are located in their new impact zones under the 10H rule. It can be estimated that a similar number of municipalities is located within the impact zones of adopted plans with planned wind projects. The most municipalities within the 10H impact zone are located in Wielkopolskie, Kujawsko-Pomorskie and Łódzkie provinces. Lack of transitional provisions for the land development study and bizarrely extended transitional provisions for other types of documents have led to a situation where many of issued building permits will not be usable. This also applies to incorrectly prepared local zoning plans for wind farms. In the expert’s opinion it is necessary to return to the solution where minimum distances between wind turbines and residential buildings depend on acoustic impact, which should be studied at the stage of preparation of the local zoning plan. This solution should be consistent for all stages of the procedure (planning, environmental, building permit). Areas with housing restrictions included in the LZP should be clearly linked to acoustics. The LZP boundaries should both include 45 dB and 40 dB impacts. Moreover, in case of projects developed at municipal boundaries, the municipality within the impact zone should not only provide opinion, but also agree on the design.
The adopted formula of the meeting was appreciated by all participating groups, especially for the exchange of knowledge and experience between the representatives of central and local governments. That is why one of the main recommendations was to repeat the conference in a cyclical manner. It should be stressed that local governments and experts have called multiple times for the current distance regulations to be lifted, as they hamper the development and does not correspond to the actual protection requirements for the environment and humans, and the representatives of the central government declared that steps would be taken to remove this artificial barrier. The current wording of these provisions completely blocks the development of new wind projects and is unfavourable for municipalities, hampering or making it impossible for them to carry out their own tasks in the area of planning. It is the local community that should have a decisive voice on development of wind projects. Using the methods and tools for participation, proposed in PWEA’s Code of Good Practice, would help involve local residents in the project in such a way that they have a larger influence on the investment process and more benefits from wind farms being developed in their area. The attendees agreed that the provisions of the Wind Turbine Act regarding the minimum distances should be repealed in full. This is the requirement of harmonious development of Polish municipalities and their well-planned spatial management – and it is necessary to make municipalities really “green”.