Energy Renewables 4 August, 2021 12:00 pm   

The fate of the distance act will be sealed this month (ANALYSIS)


“Liberalization of the Distance act should enter into force at the end of November,” the Ministry of Economic Development, Labor and Technology said. Despite the fact that the public and inter-ministerial consultations have ended in late June, the proposed changes have not been revealed yet. However, the ministry has ensured that the works are progressing and the proposed changes are now being discussed. The project is to be adopted by the Council of Ministers this month – Bartłomiej Sawicki, editor at writes.  

The Distance act and other state documents

Liberalization of the Distance act was added to the National Recovery Plan as part of the EU Recovery Package. It is worth reminding that according to the Polish Energy Policy until 2040 (PEP 2040), which has been already adopted by the government, the installed capacity of onshore wind energy has to go up. It is impossible to achieve those goals without amending the Distance act. “So, indirectly this has been brought about by the PEP 2040. The amendment to this act was also confirmed in the so-called Polish Deal,” Anna Kornecka Deputy Minister for Development, Technology and Entrepreneurship still assured in June. In her opinion the need to free onshore wind also stems from the fact that the prices of power, fuels and CO2 emission allowances are growing, which impacts the final energy price for consumers and the competitiveness of Polish economy. Green energy is simply cheaper. The market is also increasingly more interested in green energy, and in Poland there is a shortage of it.

August – the month of truth

According to the original schedule, by the end of June, the Permanent Committee at the Council of Ministers, should have adopted the draft bill, and then by the end of July the Council of Ministers should have done the same. From there, the document should go to the Sejm, and in late September to the Senate. “After that by the end of October it should be signed by the president. I hope that by the 30th of November this year the bill will enter into force,” Kornecka assured in June. However, the process got delayed, most probably, because of the numerous comments and proposals to further amend the draft measure. The ministry has stopped accepting new comments a month ago, but their content has not been published yet. “The Ministry of Economic Development, Labour and Technology is currently analyzing the comments forwarded during public consultations and in result of arrangements between ministries. The next steps in the legislative process, including a review of the draft by the Permanent Committee of the Council of Ministers and Council of Ministers, are set to take place in August this year,” the ministry told us.

We also asked the Ministry of Climate and Environment about their view on the matter. “The amendment that is being prepared by the Ministry of Economic Development, Labour and Technology will be very important for the development of onshore wind power, because the basic assumptions behind the draft, seem to respond to the majority of comments made by the citizens, local governments and investors,” the ministry replied and stressed that it is necessary to pursue green targets as set out by the European Commission, which can be achieved thanks to onshore wind farms.

Moreover, the ministry has also emphasized that recently it has received numerous messages from local governments, claiming that onshore wind farms could be built at a distance that is a little shorter than ten times the height of a wind turbine measured from the ground to the highest point of the tower, including the technical elements, especially the turbine and blades (the 10H rule). One of the postulates was for the 10H rule to be abolished only with the acceptance of the local community. “At the same time many local governments pointed out that the 10H rule made it impossible to build houses. It’s a very important argument in the ongoing discussion,” the statement said.

However, on the other hand one needs to remember that the 10H rule was introduced due to social protests, which could return in view of the bill being updated now. “This is why any attempts at making the distance rule more flexible need to be subject to a constant debate among a broad range of stakeholders, and the acceptance of local communities is in this case absolutely necessary,” the Ministry of Climate and Environment argues.

During the inter-ministerial consultations, the climate ministry has also submitted its comments to the draft amendment. It stressed that in order to maintain the pace at which renewables are developing, it will be necessary to simultaneously increase investments in grid infrastructure, which is necessary to add new power sources. “This is why it is important to develop onshore wind farms on the basis of the new distance rules, while being mindful of the capabilities of the grid,” the statement says. So, one could presume that the proposals made by the Ministry of Climate and Environment are about making the process of building new networks more robust.

The assumptions behind the Distance act

The amendment to the 2016 Act that is being prepared by the Ministry of Economic Development, Labour and Technology, is drafted with the goal to “use the domestic potential of the national onshore wind power and increase production from renewable energy sources, in line with the targets set by, among others, PEP 2040”. “In order to achieve the required RES targets Poland needs to develop onshore wind, which may significantly boost economic development, growth of the RES sector and other industries related to infrastructural investments and the energy sector. If the scale of investments is sufficient, onshore wind power may contribute to lowering the costs of power thanks to its cost efficiency,” the project description says. “The bill will multiply the number of onshore wind farms, which, considering the high cost efficiency of such power plants, may add to the national power system a lot of cheap, energy,” the document goes on.

The draft amendment to the Act on investments in wind power is also to contribute to the secure development of housing in communities that neighbor onshore wind farms. “The existing regulations make it impossible to build houses at a distance that is shorter than the 10H rule from a wind turbine,” the ministry explains. The main goal of the draft is to maintain the basic rule for locating a new wind farm, which says that it can be built only on the basis of the local spatial development plan (LSDP). However, the duty to prepare an LSDP, or change it to facilitate an investment, will only apply to the area where the impact of the wind farm is anticipated, instead of the entire area encompassed by the so-called “10H rule”, i.e. the space within a radius that is 10 times as long as the total height of the designed wind turbine.

The basic minimum distance away from the wind turbine remains the same – it cannot be shorter than the one designated by the “10H rule”. However, the ministry has stressed that the most efficient approach would be to make the distance rule more flexible by allowing the local authorities to make a decision on locating onshore wind farms. The local government will be able to do this by updating its LSDP. The required minimum distance from houses will be determined by the results of a study on the expected impact of the wind farm on the environment (it will include, e.g., the impact of noise on the surroundings and the health of the residents), which will be done for an LSDP that is to be drafted or updated for a specific wind farm. The ministry has also explained that in the LSDP prepared for the area around the future wind farm, the adopted distances should take into consideration the actual demands that result from the forecast. An identical, minimal absolute safety distance will pertain to locating new housing in relation to an existing wind farm. The distance between a new house and a wind farm cannot be correspondingly lower than the minimum distance in the act.

The final distance from the residential buildings will be verified and determined as part of the procedure in which the Regional Directorate for Environmental Protection will issue decisions about the environmental conditions for a given investment, on the basis of a detailed report on environmental impact, with maintaining a minimum safe, absolute distance from houses, which will be provided for in the act.

Flexibility and consultations

The local authorities will be able to make the minimum distance more flexible, but this possibility will have strings attached as the residents of the communes will have additional rights for consultations (during public discussions). To this end, the regulations on locating wind farms are to be amended, so that the communes have an additional duty to organize extra public consultations with the participation of interested residents on the LSDP, which will include the borders of the area where an onshore wind farm will be built and solutions on locating the planned wind power plant. According to the draft bill, additional requirements on technical duties will be introduced to increase the safety of exploitation of the key technical elements of onshore wind farms. These duties will be performed by the Office of Technical Inspection. So, in order to ensure the wind farms work safely, a periodical, cyclical certification of companies that offer maintenance services for the technical elements of the wind farm (need to consider, e.g., the company’s staff, its competencies and authorizations) will be performed. The certification is to diminish the risk of accidents caused by the incorrect exploitation of technical elements of the onshore farm. A dedicated registry of entities that can offer such services will be established. This will make it possible to verify whether the user of an onshore wind farm uses the services of a certified company.