This report summarises the findings from SOWFIA project WP4 examining wave energy consenting processes and stakeholder opinions (other marine users and regulators) on wave energy approval processes in six European countries where wave energy test centres have been established. The barriers and accelerators to wave energy consenting identified in SOWFIA WP2 were also considered and general and country-specific recommendations were developed under four main themes which were identified as critical to the expansion of wave energy across Europe: (i) integrated planning; (ii) administrative procedures; (iii) environmental impact assessment (EIA); and (iv) consultation. For each theme, strategic and operational recommendations were assigned.
Before presenting country-specific recommendations, and to support them, a summary of the context for each theme is presented covering: the implementation of strategic plans; wave energy consenting systems; experiences derived from EIA for wave energy developments in various countries; and developers and stakeholders’ opinions on consultation activities for wave energy developments. In general, strategic plans like Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) aimed at maximising and managing the sustainable use of maritime areas are not yet fully implemented. Suitably tailored licensing processes do not exist in most of the countries analysed, although some countries have taken steps recently to adapt existing legislation to accommodate wave energy licensing. Some experience exists on wave energy EIA but reliable baseline and long-term impact data are not yet available, partly because the industry is still relatively new. Such knowledge gaps hinder the transfer of knowledge and the improvement of the environmental assessment for projects. Consultation is sometimes perceived by stakeholders as mainly a “tick-box” exercise and there is a widespread perception that developers do not really take stakeholders’ concerns and opinion into account. This may explain a common lack of interest in such events among many stakeholders. Furthermore, in some cases the time periods for consultation are too short to review technical and lengthy documentation. Nevertheless, most stakeholders are generally supportive of marine renewables, particularly wave energy, which is viewed as having lower visual and other impacts than some other marine renewable technologies, particularly offshore wind.
The following general recommendations to improve wave energy consenting processes in Europe are suggested:
- Further efforts to promote the development and implementation of MSP;
- Increased application of the SEA process to wave energy planning and future development;
- Where possible, the introduction of ‘one-stop-shop’ consenting approaches (or the definition of a coordinating body) for wave energy project or at least better collaboration between authorities in a parallel processing approach;
- The amendment of current consenting processes towards tailored and fit-for-purpose licensing and the availability of clear guidance documents on licensing procedures in each country;
- The establishment of more common and consistent timeframes for licensing developments;
- Greater availability of EIA results, particularly impact evaluations and monitoring results to increase the knowledge base for prediction and evaluation of impacts;
- The need for early engagement and consultation with stakeholders and the creation of a mechanism for considering and dealing with any concerns raised;
- The importance of giving more time to stakeholders to analyse project documentation; The need to carefully plan (time and venue) consultation events according to the stakeholder group being targeted (e.g. evenings for fishermen).
A number of country-specific recommendations are also identified and presented for each critical theme. These are based on the SOWFIA project team’s expertise of their national context and feedback from stakeholders interviewed during the project.