It is clear that renewable energies, and particularly offshore wind power, constitute an opportunity to meet international and national commitments and targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as established by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement, and they therefore constitute an element of the approach necessary to address global warming in general. However, such sources of energy are not without drawbacks, given that their installation, operation and decommissioning may potentially cause damage to and threaten the marine environment. It is therefore important to achieve a balance between the environmental benefits of using of the oceans and the need for protection of the environment.
Scientific uncertainty and lack of initial data on the potential effects of these facilities, have led to long delays in processing Environmental Impact Assessments, and public opposition to these projects has contributed to stagnation in terms of its development in Spain. Furthermore, incomplete environmental impact studies and inappropriate environmental impact statements (such as those that fail to assess the synergistic effects of nearby facilities and all components thereof) can lead to delays in processing applications, the inadmissibility of wind projects, and ineffective protection of the marine environment.
The current regulations on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) -along with case-law decisions-, are an attempt to solve several of these varied problems and clashes of interests between promoters, citizens, and administrators, while protecting biodiversity and fighting climate change. However, some regulatory gaps and legal uncertainties still require regulatory improvement in this respect.
The main objective of this research is therefore to assess the real and potential future legal and factual problems in the field of environmental assessmentassociated with offshore wind farms in Spain, in an analysis of the responses and solutions provided by the Directive 2014/52/EU and the 21/2013 Environmental Assessment Law. Regulatory improvements are proposed, which could help to boost the development of marine renewable energy facilities, promoting greater public consensus, while at the same time protecting biodiversity and the marine environment.
The main proposed improvements consist of establishing a joint or coordinated processing of EIA with other assessments and procedures (such as the evaluations derived from birds and habitats directives); elaborating guidance documents which help promoters in analyzing synergistic and cumulative effects in their Environmental Impact Studies, hereafter EIS; enhancing the role of the scoping phase and, specially, considering the inclusion of this stage in the regulation of the simplified EIA procedure; improving public information and participation in the EIA process through the establishment of the obligation of disseminate relevant information through electronic means, the expansion of the legal concept of “interested persons” and the inclusion of public participation phases both in early stages of the procedure and after substantial modifications of the project or the study of EIA.