EU energy ministers finally unblocked emergency measures to accelerate permitting and the deployment of new renewable energy projects, in an effort to replace Russian energy imports and reach ambitious climate targets.

The Energy Council approval was made possible after the ministers also agreed on a price limit on imported gas at €180 ($191)/MWh. Several EU member states for a month had held up the renewables measures – despite in principle agreeing to them – to push through the gas price cap.

“We have launched a booster for renewables. This will massively accelerate the expansion of solar and wind power across the EU in the coming years,” German economics and climate minister Robert Habeck said.

“This makes us independent of Russian gas more quickly and at the same time helps to achieve our climate protection goals.”

The measures now approved include rules to temporarily grant all renewables projects the status of ‘overriding public interest’, and establish strict deadlines for the permit-granting process of solar power and heat pump installations, as well as repowering projects.

The ‘overriding public interest’ clause gives governments the possibility to fast-track approval processes – for example regarding environmental assessments – and apply a population-based approach to biodiversity instead of case-by-case decisions that have been blocking projects in many countries.

“We are simplifying standards for conservation assessment when it is clear that a species' population is not endangered,” explained Habeck, who has already pushed through a similar measures in Germany.

“This will give us legal certainty for faster and more uniform approvals when expanding wind power.”

Energy ministers at their meeting that lasted until this morning added a provision to fast track and simplify the roll-out of power grids, which in many countries has been holding up a speedier expansion of green power.

The measures to accelerate the deployment of renewables will kick in next year, and will be valid for 18 months. They also include that there will only be one environmental assessment, during the project and planning phase, and the possibility to create so-called ‘go-to-areas’ for wind energy, where projects will be approved faster.

The regulation is intended to bridge the gap until the more long-term EU Renewable Energy Directive is updated and adopted next year. The new rules can also be applied to existing projects.

This emergency regulation will help us deliver the necessary solar to keep the lights on.

SolarPower Europe CEO Walburga Hemetsberger

Industry group SolarPower Europe stressed how the emergency measures are likely to contribute to more PV energy being installed next year.

"The IEA [International Energy Agency] tells us we need at least 60 GW of solar by next winter to compensate for a shortfall in Russian gas," SolarPower Europe chief executive Walburga Hemetsberger said.

"This emergency regulation will help us deliver the necessary solar to keep the lights on."

EU countries thanks to the new legislation can now legally restrict permitting procedures for solar on so-called 'artificial surfaces' (rooftops, carports, industrial areas, etc.) to three months. The turbo-speed permitting rule for projects under 50kW can even be shortened to one month.

The gas price cap on the insistence of Germany and other northern countries will have some safety valves built in to make sure it won’t divert LNG supplies to markets willing to pay higher prices, such as in Asia. The price cap will need to be at least €35/MWh above the global wholesale market price, or will be lifted, Germany’s economics and climate ministry said.

UPDATED to add SolarPower Europe comment