The draft of the amendment to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Act envisages a prolongation of the ascertainment procedure as well as extended legal issues in the development of hydropower. The extended verification rights in the ascertainment procedure would make the EIA procedure even more drawn out – the duration of which already significantly exceeds the statutory period. In addition, the newly introduced EIA legal facts regarding hydropower plants lead to an increase of EIA processes. As is the case with an increased number of EIA processes, a further prolongation would equally further delay development of renewable energies and the necessary grid capacity in Austria.
"Austrians are rightly proud of the fact that just under 70% of their electricity comes from renewable energies – especially hydropower. The high domestic value creation in the construction and operation of the plants safeguards employment; the good development of the infrastructure and - not least of all - the supply security are important location factors from which the whole country benefits. However, approval processes are already being delayed far in excess of the statutory maximum duration. Prolonging these further is in conflict with the necessary "renewable" energy turnaround," said Wolfgang Anzengruber, CEO of VERBUND.
Ascertainment procedures serve for the rapid clarification of the question as to whether an EIA obligation exists for a project or not. The legally specified six-week-period is already exceeded in almost all federal provinces and lasts for approx 5 months. In the event of negative EIA ascertainment decisions, the assessment draft to the EIA Act now envisages the possibility of an application for reconsideration. Under these circumstances, project applicants thus remain in the dark for up to a year about whether an EIA is obligatory for their project or not.
The Austrian EIA Act now regulates the public participation in an exemplary way. In addition to environmental organisations and affected local residents, citizens’ groups, environmental lawyers and municipalities are involved as parties in the proceedings.
Furthermore, the present draft to the amendment also envisages new criteria for the obligatory EIA of hydropower plants so that increased number of EIAs must be conducted in the hydropower sector, especially in the area of small-scale hydropower. The development of this climate friendly and renewable production technology will thus be further hampered. However, the implementation of the Austrian energy strategy agreed last year demands the further development of renewable energies, especially hydropower.
VERBUND, alone, plans and constructs hydropower plants in Austria with a 1000 MW capacity. With the development of hydropower, Austria – a net electricity importer since 2001 – will again have a stable electricity trading balance sheet across the year and therewith no longer be reliant upon electricity imports. Furthermore, hydropower provides significant support in the attainment of the European climate goals.