Natura 2000 is the cornerstone of EU nature and biodiversity conservation policy framework. It has been developed under the Birds Directive (1979) and Habitats Directive (1992) with main scope to establish ecosystem stability and develop new strategic priorities, methods and practices to protect endangered and threatened wildlife species and habitats. Natura 2000 is a massive network of 26.000 environmental protected areas in all the 27 Member States of the European Union and covers an area of more than 750.000 km2, which occupy 18% of the EU land area and embrace more than 90% of all the European protected wilderness locations. One of the most important and interesting parts of Natura 2000 is that although the network will certainly include nature reserves, most of the land is likely to continue to be privately owned and the emphasis is on ensuring that future management is sustainable, both ecologically and economically.
Generally speaking, wind energy installations do not represent a threat to wildlife but when the potential project has poor siting strategies perspectives and design deficiencies the negative impact on vulnerable species and habitats of the ecosystem is more than certain. This is the main reason that an environmental permit will not hold in EU courts when the EU directives and regulations are not respected from investors and developers. Some of the countries failed to comply with the EU legislation and directives are presented in this article as a reference for further investigation and research analysis.
On 27 November 2008 the European Commission took a strong stance by officially opening a legal infringement procedure against Bulgaria for failing to implement the Birds Directive. The Bulgarian government agreed to the implementation plans of industrial, tourism and trade projects that are likely to have negative environmental impacts and serious effects to the unique Kaliakra Important Bird Area (IBA) site on the Black Sea coast, which until recently was pristine coastal steppe land. More than 450 individual development projects are constructed or proposed on the Kaliakra site, among them tourist complexes, golf courses and more than 200 wind turbines. The projects occupy nearly 30% of Kaliakra's land territory, which represents an area of 25 square kilometres.
Kaliakra Natura 2000 site is destroyed by the contruction of windfarms.
Source: BirdLife International
" What we see happening at Kaliakra has nothing to do with strategic, responsible planning ", said Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager at the BirdLife European Division.
One year later, in October 2009, the European Commission opened several accelerated infringement proceedings against Bulgaria due to a systematic failure to protect its Natura 2000 sites and especially because of the uncontrolled development in Kaliakra area. The developmental activities caused several environmental hazards that resulted in a large-scale disturbance of biodiversity performance in this sensitive ecosystem.
The National Park of Alta Murgia in Puglia is a real hotspot of animal and vegetative biodiversity, with a huge number of wild species, bird fauna with 75 species, which represents a little less than half of all nesting species in the region and approximately 1,500 species of vegetation which is equal to 25% of all Italian flora.
Two companies (Eolica di Altamura and Azienda Agro-Zootecnica Franchini) wishing to construct large-scale wind energy installations in the Alta Murgia National Park, had appealed before a local court against the regional law which prevented it from fulfilling the decision. But the Court of Justice, to which Italian magistrates had referred the case, ruled that a total veto on the construction of wind turbines in areas covered by Natura 2000, the EU's environmental protection directive, is in principle legal.
Alta Murgia National Park, Italy
Photo Source: Parco NazNazionale dell'Alta Murgia
Back in 2006, Italy passed a law forbidding investors from using Natura 2000 environmental protected areas for the development and operation of new wind energy installations in order to secure biodiversity conservation and meet the requirements and commitments as EU defined under the Birds Directive. The Former chief justice of. Slovakia's Constitutional Court Jan Mazak, currently an advocate general at the European Court of Justice mentioned that there is no evidence that Italy's progress towards meeting its Kyoto Protocol targets is affected by the decision.
In March 2011, the Commission has accepted the emergent need for strategic siting planning, and preparation of analytical sensitivity assessments for the development of new wind energy installations in or adjacent to Natura 2000 sites. However, the Greek authorities and particularly the Regulatory Authority for Energy (RAE) permit the siting of wind farms across the entire Natura 2000 network (other than priority habitats) and the migratory paths of birds.
The Hellenic Ornithological Society indicates the indifferent attitude and apathy of the authorities towards protected areas.The decision of the local Prefecture Committee to approve the Environmental Impact Assessment regarding an out of proportion wind farm in the Greek islands of Lesvos, Limnos and Chios can only be characterised as self destructive, say the Hellenic Ornithological Society and the Society for the Protection of the Environment and Cultural Heritage.
The 353 wind turbines situated by 70% inside the Natura 2000 network of these pristine islands will have significant negative impacts on the world-famous bird watching destinations of the North Aegean, Greece. The authorities voted for this harmful investment even though they were aware, via the public consultation process, that every year more than 4,000 birdwatchers and nature-lovers visit Lesvos.
Does Greece have a substantive assessment of the environmental impacts and compatibility standards for the wind turbines siting procedures in terms of policy harmonization, convergence and ecosystem conservation?
"The Commission is aware that Greece has carried out a strategic environmental assessment of its special spatial planning framework for renewable energy, in accordance with Directive 2001/42/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment ", says Mr Potocnik on behalf of the Commission.
Commission refers Romania to court
Commission refers Romania to court to ensure European law in relation to the Environmental protection is properly implemented. Following its examination of the special protection areas designated by the Romanian authorities, the Commission reached the conclusion that Romania's designation of the most suitable territories as special protection areas was insufficient in both number and size. In addition to that, the development of wind energy projects in these areas had been implemented with poorly environmental impact assessment data.
The Court considered an infringement action brought by the European Commission on the basis that Romania had failed to fulfil its obligations under Articles 4(1) and (2) of the Wild Birds Directive21, by failing to classify as special protection areas (SPAs) sufficient territories in number and size for the adequate protection of certain species. The Court held that the Commission's letter of formal notice to Romania did not sufficiently identify how it had failed to fulfil the obligations the breach of which it was subsequently accused in the Commission's reasoned opinion. The Court held that the pre-litigation procedure had not guaranteed Romania's rights to submit its observations in response to the Commission's complaints and dismissed the action as inadmissible.
14 April 2011, Fourth Chamber, EU Commission Court
What Loic Blanchard, an EWEA Policy Egineer said should be used as an evaluation criterion to determine what is ethical and scientifically accurate in relation to the development of wind energy installations in environmental protected areas.
Even if the results of these studies (Environmental Impact Assessments) are not always supportive of the wind industry,it's important for us to take them on board, to understand whether an impact is significant, and if it is, to look at what measures are needed to reduce it. Most of the players in the wind industry are working hard, and at high cost, to reduce impacts and fulfill their obligations at an EU and national level. Some bad practice has crept in historically from a few developers who thought there was some easy money to make. But this is extremely limited compared to the vast majority of the industry, which not only responds to the global environmental challenge but is working hard on its local credentials.