The Slovenia Times

Pohorje wind energy project hits roadblocks


After nearly a decade of unsuccessful attempts to increase Slovenia's wind turbine count beyond two, the latest ambitious venture, involving 56 turbines on the Pohorje Plateau meant to supply 110,000 households, has encountered its set of challenges as well.

As building permit procedures for the plans of the company Energija na Veter (Wind Energy) are ongoing, the two municipalities involved, Slovenska Bistrica and Ruše, have pulled the brake on the project, demanding that it be handled at state level.

Decisions adopted on 8 June by the two municipal councils indicate the need for changes to the national zoning plan for the 3.5 MW turbines, although the legislation envisages this only for facilities with at least 10 MW of capacity.

Despite the projected €2.7 million in additional annual revenue for the municipality, Slovenska Bistrica's municipal councillors were unanimous in interpreting the pertinent legislation in a way that only allows the municipality to okay wind turbines with up to 1 MW of capacity.

Mayor Ivan Žagar argued that the investor was trying to shirk legal responsibilities by segmenting the project into multiple smaller ones and that the state should be the one assuming the responsibility for such a large project. He is reserved about erecting wind turbines along the scenic Pohorje hills, while acknowledging the need for green energy sources.

Moreover, the Ruše municipality, which initially appeared supportive of the project and granted permission for the turbine's cables to pass through its land, has now retracted its consent.

Ruše's councillors, who were told the municipality was not entitled to compensation for the use of the land, adopted the view that changes to the national zoning plan would be needed. They also argued the expansion of old access roads and the construction of the new ones is poorly defined in the plans.

In recent months, the project has garnered increasing public attention due to opposition from the local community, culminating in a small protest rally held in April. Opposition has also been voiced by Unitur, the operator of the Rogla ski resort, which argues turbines near tourism facilities that build on green trends are not acceptable.

Energija na Veter, a special-purpose vehicle owned by the Swiss company Woc Group that is registered at the address of a lawyer of Slovenian descent, Petra Rihar, has meanwhile issued repeated assurances that it has carried out a thorough assessment of the potential impacts on nature in the preparation of the project with the help of more than 50 experts.

Slovenia lagging behind on renewables

The investor has pointed out that only two wind turbines are currently operating in Slovenia, compared to 364 in Croatia and 1,374 in Austria, and that the project, which is also part of the updated National Energy and Climate Plan until 2030, was included in 2021 on the list of important projects for mitigating the economic crisis caused by the epidemic.

Energija na Veter's head Mitja Hertiš said that all wind turbines would be located outside the area that is to become a regional park and that the company had also cooperated with DOPPS-Birdlife Slovenia, which had helped determine potential locations of the wind turbines. Also, studies have shown that less than 0.02% of Pohorje's forest would be cleared.

Quizzed about the project recently in parliament, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Energy Bojan Kumer and Natural Resources and Spatial Planning Minister Uroš Brežan, said the relevant procedures were in their initial stages only and that the project would be conducted in accordance with the law.

"The opinion of the local community is certainly of great importance and carries a lot of weight, as do the opinions of the Nature Conservation Institute and other institutions. As part of the ongoing process, we will look very closely at what all the stakeholders have to say and the substance behind them," Brežan said.

Kumer, who argued the project was still far from obtaining a construction permit, agreed that it was not acceptable to fragment projects into several smaller ones and that degraded areas should by prioritised when investing in renewable energy.

He however also pointed out Slovenia is lagging far behind when it comes to ensuring a sufficient share of renewable energy sources. This is mainly due to the lengthy zoning procedures and the energy infrastructure to which the installations have to be connected.

Kumer highlighted that wind measurements have indeed indicated the promising potential of the Pohorje region for wind turbine installations. However, he acknowledged the presence of a number of constraining factors that need to be taken into consideration.

Slovenia has very strict legislation and procedures regarding nature conservation, as demonstrated by previous wind turbines cases, he noted.

"While this may provide reassurance to opponents of such investments, it is also concerning for ensuring a reliable energy supply in Slovenia and, above all, for achieving higher shares of renewables," said Kumer, while reiterating that legislation would be upheld.


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