New reliefs for approval procedures for wind and PV power in Italy

published on 10th July 2023

Over the past few years, a number of laws have been enacted with which the then existing government of Italy tried to simplify the approval procedures for RES plants and thus to promote the expansion of the renewable energy sector. Worth mentioning are, apart from the Law Decree 199/2021, the so-called RED II Decree and its Article 20(8), in particular: Decreto Sostegni ter, Decreto Energia, Decreto Auiti, Decreto PNRR, Decreto Aiuti Bis, Budget Law 2022, Legge Milleproroghe 2023. Shortly after Easter, a new law was enacted that serves the same purpose: In its session on 20 April 2023, the Italian Parliament finally adopted the bill amending the Law Decree 13/2023, also referred to as “Recovery Plan – Reliefs" or "PNRR 3". 

Appropriate land areas and permits

We have already wrote here about the so-called appropriate land areas to which reliefs for approval procedures apply. The new law emphasises now that when designating the appropriate land areas regions must observe the respective criteria set by some government ministries and treat the preliminary designation of specific land areas introduced by the Law Decree 199/2021 as appropriate. 

The list of land areas deemed to be appropriate for the installation of renewable energy systems has now been extended: 

  • Appropriate land areas include also sites of the existing power plants, including other than PV power plants, where significant changes were made (regeneration, potentiation or full replacement and, if necessary, addition of storage systems).
  • Significant changes may result in the expansion of the occupied area only by a maximum of 20% – this applies to plants other than PV power plants.
  • In the case of PV power plants, significant changes may lead to the expansion of the occupied area of more than 20%.
  • Appropriate land areas include from now on areas and plants on airport premises.
  • For plants located on the appropriate land areas, the distance to protected objects has been decreased: In the future, wind turbines can be constructed at a distance of 3 km to such objects (so far 7 km) and PV power plants at a distance of 500 metres (so far 1 km).

A complementary regulation applies to plants situated on the appropriate land areas that are at the disposal of motorway concession companies that have to put the areas up to tender. If no suitable tender offers are received, the land areas may be awarded to associated enterprises or subsidiaries. It is possible to file applications with the motorway concession companies for certain land plots to be put up to tender.  
The core concept of the new act is that the construction of ground-mounted PV power plants in industrial, craft and commercial sectors as well as in landfills and quarries that can no longer be used is not subject to the approval requirement. However, provisions on the EIA and the EIA screening shall remain unaffected. If restrictions arising from landscape protection regulations apply, the competent supervisory authority for landscape protection may reject the project if such intervention cannot be married with the applicable restrictions in the area of landscape protection. The rejection is communicated within 30 days of submitting the project. The simplified approval procedure (PAS), under which certain MW thresholds apply, had been previously in force.

The new law also envisages that the reliefs applicable to the approval procedure will also apply to approvals granted for underground power-cables, irrespective of their exact position.

Changes in the approval procedure

The procedure for the issuance of a Unified Approval (Autorizzazione Unica) for the construction of RE power plants was amended to the effect that now the opinion of the Ministry of Culture is only required with respect to land plots subject to landscape protection and not to adjacent land plots.

It further provides that the approval granted as a result of the procedure will also cover the EIA and the EIA screening and, in the case of pumped storage, the concession for the use of water as well.

  • The procedure for the issuance of a Unified Approval must be completed within 90 days if the project is located on land plots subject to cultural and landscape protection.
  • In other cases the completion deadline is 60 days less time required to carry out an environmental impact assessment.

In addition, a deadline of 45 days applies to landscape permits issued for projects involving PV power plants and thermal solar power plants that will be located in villas, gardens, parks or real estate complexes of vital public interest according to Article 136(1) (b) and (c) of Law Decree No. 42/2004. The period may be suspended only once when the approval authority justifiably requires within 15 days of filing the application that the documents be submitted on an integrated basis. After the expiry of the 45 day-period, if the suspension has not been justified, the permit is considered to have been granted and becomes immediately effective.
Other reliefs apply to the energy storage systems. 

Exemption from the obligation to undergo an environmental impact assessment

Another important issue is the exemption from the obligation to undergo an EIA with respect to a number of plants:

  • PV power plants with a capacity of up to 30 MW, including the related works, storage systems and infrastructure if they are constructed in the appropriate land areas and have already undergone a strategic environmental assessment
  • Storage systems for electricity from renewable energy sources (including related works)
  • Changes in the existing power plants (regeneration, potentiation or full replacement and, if necessary, addition of storage systems) which do not result in the expansion of the plant area, with a total capacity after the intervention of up to 50 MW
  • Repowering projects of existing wind parks which do not result in the expansion of the plant area, with a total capacity after the intervention of up to 50 MW
  • Offshore wind turbines of up to 50 MW that are located in areas listed in the maritime spatial planning, as stipulated in Article 23 (2) of Law Decree No. 199 of 8 November 2021

The exemption from the obligation to undergo an environmental impact assessment applies to electricity infrastructure and renewable energy storage projects located in areas covered by the Terna Plan that have already successfully passed a strategic environmental assessment.

The new regulation applies at the applicant’s request also to the already initiated EIA processes. 

Environmental impact assessment on regional and state level

Another novelty is that the thresholds applicable to photovoltaic power plants that will be erected in the appropriate land areas will be raised. If the thresholds are exceeded, the power plants will have to undergo a state EIA procedure. The thresholds for photovoltaic power plants will be raised from 10 MW to 20 MW unless the plants are situated in areas subject to special protection (e.g. UNESCO World Heritage Site, Rete Natura 2000 etc.). Starting from a capacity of 1 MW a regional EIA screening will have to be performed.

On the other hand, a similar legal provision stipulated in clause 9-bis of Article 6 of Legislative Decree 28/2011 will be repealed. 

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