The Polish energy system urgently needs an accelerated development of new renewable capacity. Work is underway in the Polish parliament to liberalise the 10 H distance rule, which stemmed development of onshore wind. Changing this rule is one of the most important decisions on which the success of Poland's energy transition lies. The seemingly small change in the location of investments from the originally planned 500 m to 700 m from residential buildings - is a significant reduction in the potential for wind energy development.
This is one of the most high-profile examples of how renewable energy sources are still treated by decision-makers as an unwanted addition to the energy system and face development barriers. Other problems include the length and complexity of the process of locating investments and obtaining planning permits, as well as the lack of connection capacity for installations. In the latest Forum Energii report, we propose solutions to optimise administrative processes and increase the technical capacity to connect new RES projects to the grid.
The analysis is available only in Polish.
The development of RES provides a number of benefits for the Polish economy: it allows for the reduction of fossil fuel imports, locally produced energy increases security of supply, reduces emissions and lowers energy prices for consumers. RES are needed in industry - as a method to reduce energy costs and lower their productions’ carbon footprint, which is becoming crucial in international supply chains.
The lost potential for rapid RES development lies in refusals to issue connection permits for new capacities. In recent years, negative decisions have become the new norm; in 2021 alone, nearly 4 000 refusals were issued for projects with a total capacity of 14.5 GW. Distribution system operators justify these decisions, among other things, by the poor technical condition of the power grids and the need to commit huge financial resources to modernise them.
For years, the area of investment in distribution grids has been neglected in Poland, but also in Europe, and has not kept pace with the dynamic development of RES. However, this is only one side of the coin. Network security is an extremely important aspect, but you cannot just wait for huge investments to come by. There are a number of actions that can be carried out quickly and at a relatively low costThere are opportunities to make better use of the already existing infrastructure," points out the Director of the RES programme at Forum Energii, Tobiasz Adamczewski - co-author of the analysis.
What can be done? Proposed actions:
- Update Poland's Energy Policy and National Energy and Climate Plan - set realistic and ambitious RES targets so that distribution and transmission system operators have a strong impetus to prepare new connection capacities.
- Oblige distribution network operators to transparently prepare network development plans tailored to RES development potential.
- Allow different RES installations to share a grid connection (cable pooling).
- Enable the connection of a RES source directly to the consumer (direct lines).
- Thoroughly review of the network infrastructure - so that any refusals to connect new installations are based on actual threats to network operation, rather than theoretical problems identified in grid analyses that do not affect system security.
Spatial planning problems
The development of new renewable capacity is also slowed down by complicated and impractical planning procedures. For solar energy, the siting and construction process can take from 12 months to even several years if changes to local special planning documents prove necessary. For wind energy, the timescales are even longer, if the project can be built at all, due to distance restrictions. Therefore, in addition to liberalising the 10 H rule with a 500-metre minimum distance from residential buildings, we recommend:
- To make it clear as to which planning documents have priority: the Development Conditions (WZ) or the Study of Conditions and Directions of Spatial Development of a given area. Regulations should clearly indicate the functions of these documents in relation to each other when locating RES investments.
- Simplification of regulations for the use of agricultural land for RES investments.
- The introduction of so-called RES zones (or go-to areas) with simplified siting procedures and those related to environmental impact assessment.
- Removal of restrictions on changing the number and capacity of individual photovoltaic panels during development. The administrative procedure is long enough that more efficient components may be available from the moment the investment is notified until the start of construction, which would consequently reduce the number of panels installed. Currently, such a change in parameters may require the investor to amend administrative decisions.
- Processing applications without undue delay, reducing the practice of sending documents back for improvement many times.
Changing the investment process. Auctions for connection capacity
However, the removal of barriers to the location of RES installations is not the only necessary change. In order to streamline the investment process, we propose reversing the current order of procedures - so that first, the investor receives preliminary connection conditions, and only then applies for the location of the installation. Auctions for connection capacity should become the starting point.
Stages of the new investment process:
- the system operator announces the available connection capacities and organises auctions;
- once the auction has been won, the investor receives preliminary connection conditions;
- on the basis of the preliminary connection conditions, changes are made to planning documents, e.g. local development plans;
- once the planning documents have been amended and the title to the land for the development has been obtained, the preliminary conditions become normal connection conditions.
With care for the environment
The development of new RES capacities, especially solar energy and onshore wind farms is crucial to ensure the country's energy security. These technologies are proven in Polish conditions and the cost of energy production is lower than from coal or gas. At the same time, it is important to assess the impact on the environment when planning new investments. Investment pressure must not translate into degradation of residential, agricultural, natural and landscape functions.
Effective legislation should eliminate bad locating investments in controversial spaces and protect the interests of citizens. However, the development of an entire sector cannot be blocked because a few investors have made a mistake. The state must take an active role, it must ensure public acceptance of the changes being made in the energy sector. And where municipalities and local communities want it, investors can be attracted by planning special investment zones for renewables in advance, concludes the CEO of the Forum Energii, Dr Joanna Pandera.