Offshore wind in Spain: an impossible mission?

[Originally published in ‘Energías Renovables]

In 2020, the European Union adopted the Offshore Renewable Energy Strategy, which foresaw an increase in offshore wind energy capacity from 12 GW to at least 60 GW in 2030, with the aim of reaching 300 GW in 2050. These projections could be raised even further due to the increase in GHG reduction targets on the one hand, and the rise in the binding minimum share of energy generation from renewable sources that will be introduced by the revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED): from at least 32% of final energy consumption by 2030 to 42.5%.

The draft revision of the Spanish National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan, presented in June 2023, foresees reaching 3 GW of offshore capacity in 2030, while the 2021 Roadmap for the development of offshore wind and marine energy proposed a range between 1 and 3 GW.

However, as of 26 June 2021, no new applications for zone reservations for offshore wind generation facilities in the territorial sea or for administrative authorisation will be accepted until a new legal framework is adopted to replace Royal Decree (RD) 1028/2007, of 20 June, which establishes the administrative procedure for the processing of these authorisation applications. The procedure foreseen under this Royal Decree was excessively long, taking more than 10 years.

Although the Plan + Energy Security committed to approving a new framework before the end of 2022, which would regulate at least the following aspects: the authorisation procedure for electricity installations, the granting of rights to use marine space, access and connection to the electricity system and the framework for promoting investment through competitive instruments, this regulatory framework has not yet been adopted.

The Maritime Spatial Plans necessary to identify potential areas where such projects could be developed were not approved until February 2023, that is, two years late.

The imminent adoption of the revised RED will have an indisputable impact on the future regulation in Spain, as it requires both the identification of areas for the acceleration of renewables and the preparation of plans that identify these areas and the applicable rules. Member States will have 27 months to draw up these plans once the Directive enters into force. The Directive will also introduce shorter and clearer deadlines for the procedures for issuing authorisation for renewable energy installations, with the aim of accelerating the deployment of these projects.

For offshore renewable projects located in Renewable Acceleration Zones, it is envisaged in principle that the authorisation procedure may not take more than two years. For offshore renewable projects located outside Renewable Acceleration Zones, the timeframe will be longer.

Despite the acceleration in the authorisation procedures for offshore wind, it is difficult for Spain to have an adequate framework to be able to deploy the proposed 3 GW, given that, together with a new RD, these acceleration zones will have to be identified first.

At the same time, the European Court of Auditors has just pointed out that the protection of biodiversity and marine ecosystems in the EU is essential when it comes to such deployment and, in consequence, the impacts per project and cumulative impacts of the entire deployment will have to be considered.

The Court also points out that access to raw materials is essential and that it is still to be seen whether supply can be assured. Similarly, and although the Court does not point this out, it will have to be seen whether the administration has sufficient human resources to be able to grant these authorisations within the established deadlines.

With all these elements on the table, reaching 3 GW of offshore wind power in Spain appears to be an impossible mission.

Ana Barreira

Ana Barreira is a lawyer and founding Director of the International Institute for Law and Environment (IIDMA), an organisation that this year celebrates its 25th anniversary. She is co-president of the energy and environment section of the Madrid Bar Association.

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