Offshore wind energy in Spain needs to be urgently regulated to avoid irreversible damage to the marine environment

  • The commercial deployment of this renewable energy could have significant socio-environmental effects, which is why solid regulation is needed.
  • The International Institute for Law and the Environment (IIDMA) has carried out a legal analysis that includes recommendations for the drafting of the new royal decree that will regulate the authorisation procedure for offshore wind farms.

Offshore wind energy harnesses the power of the wind to generate electricity. Its high potential makes it a crucial renewable source for achieving the European objective of climate neutrality by 2050. In Spain, the draft revision of the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) foresees reaching 3 GW of offshore power in 2030.

However, the administrative delay that exists on this issue will difficult the achievement of this goal. In fact, as of 26 June 2021, no applications for new offshore wind generation facilities in the territorial sea will be accepted until a new legal framework is adopted to replace Royal Decree (RD) 1028/2007, of 20 June, which establishes the procedure for the processing of these authorisation applications. In the Plan + Energy Security, published in October 2022, the government pledged to publish a draft regulatory framework for the development of offshore wind and marine energy before the end of that year, something that has not yet occurred.

“Spain is lagging behind in offshore wind deployment. The target set in the PNIEC is ambitious and the deadlines are tight, so having operational projects by the end of the decade requires analysis, caution and the participation of all stakeholders to increase renewable power while avoiding irreparable damage to biodiversity and marine ecosystems, something the European Court of Auditors recently warned against,” says Ana Barreira, director of the International Institute for Law and the Environment (IIDMA).

The Secretary of State for Energy, Sara Aagesen, mentioned in a public appearance that the aim was to initiate the public consultation procedure for the new regulatory framework governing the deployment of this energy before the end of the year. “On the other hand, the recently adopted reform of the Renewable Energy Directive will have an indisputable impact on the regulation in Spain, as it requires both the identification of areas for the acceleration of renewables and the development of plans that identify these areas and the applicable rules,” Barreira points out.

United Kingdom, Denmark and Germany: three models to pay attention to

In this context, and with the aim of contributing to the deployment of this energy in our country, IIDMA has prepared the report ‘Offshore Renewable Energy: A Legal Analysis’, which compares the regulatory framework in the United Kingdom, Denmark and Germany in relation to aspects such as maritime spatial planning or tendering and authorisation procedures. “This comparative analysis serves to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the three European countries with the greatest experience in the deployment of this renewable technology” says the Institute’s environmental lawyer and co-author of the report, Marta Vicioso. 

In this way, IIDMA has formulated the following recommendations:

  • It is necessary to adopt a planning instrument that carries out a more specific characterisation of the high potential areas for offshore wind energy (ZAPERs) identified in the Marine Spatial Plans (MSPs). Before initiating a tendering procedure, the most suitable sites should be identified and the technical studies carried out in the framework of this analysis should be made available to the offshore wind sector before a tendering procedure is launched.
  • Tendering rounds should be launched on the basis of actual needs for existing installation capacity, in order to avoid projects being developed for purely economic purposes. The design of bidding rounds should be dynamic and flexible to adapt to the changing needs of the offshore wind sector. Projects submitted in the framework of a bidding round should be assessed based on a number of qualitative, rather than purely economic, criteria.
  • The developer of an offshore wind farm must be a key player in any authorisation procedure. In this regard, before applying for an operating or construction permit, the developer should organise dialogues with the authorities and the affected local community in order to shape a project proposal with high rates of social acceptance.
  • In relation to the financing scheme, the state support mechanism should be that of Contracts for Difference (CfD), in line with the agreement reached in the European Council on a proposal to change the configuration of the EU electricity market. It is a system that guarantees stable revenues to the developer and minimises financial costs, ultimately allowing consumers to not bear an additional cost in case of fluctuating energy prices.
  • Bidding rounds should not offer the possibility for developers to submit unlimited negative bids. This system – whereby developers compete with each other to offer the state the highest amount of money to build an offshore wind farm – imposes additional costs on developers that must then be passed on to society. Negative bids will therefore result in higher electricity prices and may make offshore wind energy uncompetitive with other renewable technologies.

These issues were discussed in more depth on the 13th of November at an event in Santiago de Compostela, currently available on the Institute’s Youtube channel.

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