The Russian military invasion of Ukraine and the consequent energy crisis in Europe have brought the issue of energy independence to the forefront of the public agenda in Poland – raising it to an issue not only of economic stability but of national security.
Increasing the proportion of renewable energy sources in Poland’s energy mix is seen by many as an essential element in achieving energy security, while also reducing carbon dioxide emissions, given the country’s traditional dependence on coal and other fossil fuels. The transition away from the use of coal has long been a point of political contention, as many Polish rural communities are economically dependent on coal mining.
In 2021, the share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption was 15.6%. Poland’s national target is to increase this to 23% by 2030.
In March 2022, the government of Poland published its Principles for the Update of the Energy Policy of Poland until 2040 (EPP2040), with the objective of achieving energy sovereignty and independence from the Russian Federation, while also protecting the environment and air quality. In this document, it envisaged an acceleration of the transition to renewable energy with the target of achieving about half of energy production from renewable sources by 2040. In addition to solar and wind energy, the government also plans to expand the use of renewable energy sources such as hydro, biomass, biogas, and geothermal energy.
In February of this year, Poland’s lower house of parliament, the Sejm, approved a bill – the Draft act amending the act on investments in wind farms and certain other acts (Project no. 2938) – to make it easier to build onshore wind farms on Polish territory. The bill was passed by a majority of 214 for, 27 against, and 209 abstentions (from the opposition parties). The bill has now moved on to the Senate, where it will undergo review.
The new law amends the Distance Act passed in 2016, which forbids the construction of wind farms within a distance 10 times the height of a turbine from residential buildings. So, for example, a turbine of 200 meters would need to be at least 2 kilometers from the nearest residential building. Dubbed the 10H law, it has made it virtually impossible to construct new wind farms in the majority of communities across the country.
The long-awaited amendment was expected to reduce the distance to a minimum of 500 meters from residential buildings – opening up the country to new investments in wind energy projects. According to the Polish Wind Energy Association, under the 10H law, only 0.28% of Poland’s land mass is available for wind farm construction, while this would increase to 7.08% under the 500-meter rule.
However, in a surprise development, a handwritten amendment by Marek Suski, Chairman of the Parliamentary Energy Committee and a member of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, changed the minimum distance to 700 meters. His stated reason for the amendment was to protect residents from the ill effects of living under a windmill.
This last-minute change has caused controversy and disappointment among many investors and industry observers, who perceive it as a move to block onshore wind energy investment, at a time when energy prices are skyrocketing.
According to the Polish Wind Energy Association, the change of distance from 500 to 700 meters will entail the cancellation of 84% of binding local spatial development plans regarding the planned construction of wind farms, quoting an analysis by Urban Consulting. Furthermore, it claims that with a mandatory distance of 700 meters, no more than 4 gigawatts of new wind capacity will be built by 2030, as opposed to up to 22 gigawatts under the 500-meter rule.
The bill now stands before the upper house, the Senate, in which the opposition has a majority. At the time of writing, the Senate was advancing amendments to the draft, in order to restore the distance to 500 meters. The chances of those being accepted by the Sejm, however, are rather low. The bill will then be passed to the president for his approval or veto.
By Agnieszka Kulinska, Partner, Dentons