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Breakthrough package: Will Lithuania realize its green energy ambitions?

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published on 30 May 2022 | Reading time approx. 4 minutes


Lithuania's decision to abandon natural gas supplies from Russia at the beginning of April 2022 was not the only step taken to strengthen the country's energy security and independence. At the same time, the Ministry of Energy of the Republic of Lithuania presented a package of legislative amendments with a focus on acceleration and stimulation of the development and expansion of green energy through major reforms in Lithuania's electricity sector.

 

 

The package of amendments − the Breakthrough package − includes 5 laws of the Republic of Lithuania: the Law on Electricity, the Law on Renewable Energy, the Law on Environmental Impact Assessment of Planned Economic Activities, the Law on Special Conditions for the Use of Land and the Law on Territorial Planning. 
 
The above-mentioned package of amendments has already been considered by the Government of the Republic of Lithuania and forwarded to the Seimas (Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania). The Breakthrough package has already been considered  in the Economic Affairs Committee and the Energy and Sustainable Development Commission, and has yet to be discussed in the Environmental Protection Committee. If the process runs smoothly as planned by the initiators of the amendments, the plenary session of the Seimas will consider the Breakthrough package in the first half of June 2022. It is envisaged that the whole package might enter into force as early as 2 July 2022. 
 
The changes to the above legislative acts set an ambitious goal for Lithuania, which is to achieve full energy independence in less than 8 years, i.e. by 2030, thus making the country a leader in green energy. Since, the initiated legislative amendments aim to accelerate the development of green energy, they are exclusively orien­ted to more efficient regulation of construction, installation and administration of onshore and offshore wind as well as solar power plants.
 
More specifically, the Breakthrough package includes a new model − hybrid power plants. Following the adop­tion of a package of legislative amendments, it would be possible to bring together different renewable electri­city plants and/or storage facilities on one site. It is also defined as a permit-regulated activity, which means that both permits to develop power plants and permits to produce electricity will be required.
 
The amendments define that solar power plants will no longer need to undergo screening and full environ­men­tal impact assessments. Solar power plants, like hybrid power plants, could be built on agricultural land without any change of use.
 
The package will remove an obligation to include wind plants in territory planning documents, but would still require a permission of the municipality where the wind plant is to be built, i.e. zoning would still remain. Additionally, in order to introduce more clarity, the amendments to the law attempt to establish clear criteria for a specific necessity cases of screening for environmental impact assessment, as well of full environmental impact assessment. Wind plants would no longer be recognized as having a significant impact on the landscape in the context of an environmental impact assessment, unless they are to be built in critical landscape areas approved by the Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Lithuania.
 
As regards to wind plants, the requirements for sanitary protection zones would also be dropped and instead a criterion of maximum distance to buildings (garden houses, residential, hotels, cultural buildings, general education, vocational, higher education, etc.) would be introduced, which is defined as the height of the mast of the specific power plant multiplied by 4. Interestingly, even in this zone, new construction would be allowed, unlike the current situation in the sanitary protection zone, as long as it complies with the requirements of the public health safety. The new distance requirement from the site of the wind plant is planned to apply from 1 January 2023.
 
The proposed amendments would not require the consent of all landowners, state or municipal land trustees whose land plots fall within the designated wind plant sanitary protection zone. It is also proposed to establish changes focusing on a fact that wind power plants of any capacity may be built on agricultural land plots (except for the territories of towns and cities and territories where, in accordance with the decisions of the applicable territory planning documents or other legal acts, the relevant construction is prohibited), provided that the land can be used in accordance with the established main land use purpose and method, and subject to the consent of the owner of the land plot, and that the purpose of the use of the land is not changed.
 
In order to reduce community opposition, the Breakthrough package includes charging green electricity gene­rators for the amount of electricity they feed into the grid. All solar power plants connected to the transmission grid, wind and biogas plants operating commercially will be subject to a so-called “production levy”. The levy will be set at a rate of EUR 0.0013/kWh (EUR 1.3/mWh). The collected money to be allocated for community needs. The obligation to pay the generation levy is planned to start on 1 July 2023. Interestingly and debatably, the levy would also apply to built and operating facilities that are currently and/or will be built and installed before the envisaged changes to the law come into force (with exceptions to be provided for in the law).
 
However, not all of the proposed changes to the law are treated as positive. Admittedly, there are quite rea­so­nable reasons for such an assessment. For example, the amendments to the law seek to require a full environ­mental impact assessment to be carried out if 7 or more wind plants are planned, at least one of which is 230 m or more in height, and the distance between the planned wind plants and the existing, under construction or planned to be built wind plants is less than 5 km. Overall, modern wind plants have a height of around 240-253 m. This means that a full environmental impact assessment will also be required for the construction of a single wind plant, which actually makes the construction of wind plants more difficult, as under the current law, an environmental impact assessment is not required for the construction of up to 3 wind plants of any given height. In this context, the construction of wind plants would lead to longer approval deadlines. Due to this and some other factors, it might be that the proposed amendments will further complicate the wind plants construction process.
 
Admittedly, the declared goal to achieve Lithuania's energy independence in the near future is inspiring indeed, however, certain visible practical inaccuracies and disadvantages raise a question of whether the proposed changes to the law have been fully considered. On the other hand, it is encouraging that the Breakthrough package is still in its development phase. Hopefully, the Breakthrough amendments to become a significant boost towards a development of renewable energy sources, establishing obvious benefits to the Lithuanian state, its people and business.
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