⚡️ Local governments - Energised #005

May 12, 2021

What do local governments think about the development of renewable energy?


The share of renewable energy in the Estonian energy economy has increased year by year and will increase even more in the future. The Estonian state has decided to stop producing energy from oil shale, but in order to obtain the same amount of energy from renewable sources, it is necessary to build several wind and solar parks scattered on land and at sea, as well as in our backyard.

But what do local authorities think about renewable energy developments, who need to process these projects, approve them, help their people with advice and strength, and balance the interests of the local community and developers?

Local government viewpoint

During February and March, we met with a total of 12 officials from 10 different local governments from Ida-Virumaa to Saaremaa. We talked to mayors, environmental and planning specialists, as well as economic and energy advisers. We proposed the meeting to those who already have experience with renewable energy projects and where developers have been interested in building both solar and wind farms.

Photographer Gustavo Fring

Solar park developers

The vast majority pointed out that the contact with the solar park developers has been rather positive. The end of 2020 was tense for many local government officials, because there were many times more solar park projects than usual[1].Those who have not previously had experience with the development of renewable energy are also interested in building a solar park, which is why officials also had to do a lot of explanatory work.

As the solar park boom suddenly exploded, officials themselves have many unanswered questions, and they also need help to adapt quickly to the new situation. For people who come to them for advice because they want to renovate their house and install panels on the roof, they advise:

"First you need to find out your consumption, because the biggest win is when you use the produced solar energy by yourself."

The best cooperation was with those developers who had already taken into account the conditions set in the master plan and the environmental restrictions on the desired land plot. They received approval for their project from the neighbours of a possible solar park - they took less work and thus received the necessary permits much faster.

Wind park developers

With wind farms, the stories are somewhat more complicated in some municipalities, for historical reasons - who have had an unpleasant experience in the past with some development or a vocal community who are fundamental opponents of such projects. According to local governments, "they are not interested in quarreling with their people" and therefore expect transparent projects from developers, good communication and honest answers to questions and fears. The local government wants to have a say to the process and propose solutions. One official asked us:

"How do you make it clear to people that renewable energy is not bad?"

Municipal officials admit that they are not well educated in the field of renewable energy to be able to answer all people's questions and concerns, but there are more than fewer questions for such projects. They always want answers sooner rather than later.

Where is the key to a successful wind farm project?

One of the most important aspects is the financial compensation[2] for tolerating the wind farm, which could alleviate the opposition of those who are closest to potential wind turbines. On the other hand, developers were also encouraged to take part of courses which would teach them how to involve people.

Takeaways from the interviews with Estonian local governments

The future of local governments and renewable energy projects

Just before the start of our interviews, the government in Estonia changed, which vigorously brought the issues of the green revolution and climate neutrality to the fore.Thus, we also examined the capacity and interest of local governments in this aspect. As the subject is so new, many acknowledged that they do not have much competence at the moment and are waiting for more precise views from the state. However, it is gratifying to note that some municipalities have already taken the first steps to reduce their carbon footprint and will certainly be willing to contribute even more as more detailed guidance arrives.

We would like to thank all those officials who, in addition to their daily duties, wanted to share their thoughts with us!

[1] The Estonian state supported power plants built during 2020

[2] The so-called local benefit model is currently being developed by theMinistry of Finance