From time to time, it is claimed that impact assessments are tailor-made by the client. Kjetil Mork of Multiconsult does not agree with that claim.
– We are constantly met with the argument that it is the developer who pays for the assessments and therefore gets the conclusions they want. But that's not true, he emphasizes.
There have been discussions about whether the system should change so that the licensing authority, the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE), hires consultants to conduct the assessments and then sends the bill to the developer. Senior environmental advisor and biologist Mork has no objections to this, as he believes the results will remain unchanged.
– We make our assessments based on standard and established methodology. The developer can, of course, read through our reports, but they have no influence on the conclusion. It is entirely clear. Sometimes they agree with us, and other times they do not. That's just how it has to be, says the 52-year-old.
We make our assessments based on standard and established methodology. The developer can, of course, read through our reports, but they have no influence on the conclusion.
The work on the permit process is comprehensive, and the impact assessment is a time-consuming part of it. The process is as follows: When a developer identifies an area they believe may have potential for development, they prepare a so-called preliminary notification. This outlines the intended development plans and identifies potential conflicts with the environment, natural resources, and the community.
Along with this preliminary notification, a proposal for an assessment program is submitted. When this is sent to the NVE, the formal permit process begins.
– The NVE sends the preliminary notification out for consultation with a set consultation deadline. All those with interests in the area or who wish to express their opinions on the development plans are given the opportunity to do so, explains Mork.
The Directorate also organizes a public meeting in the relevant area, where everyone can come and express their opinions on the development plans. After this consultation round is over, the NVE reviews all the consultation responses. Following this, a final assessment plan is prepared.
All wind power cases with an installed capacity exceeding 10 MW must be notified in accordance with regulations on impact assessments under the Planning and Building Act.
Following the notification, the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) establishes an impact assessment program that describes the topics the developer must further investigate.
If the developer chooses to proceed with the project, the application and completed impact assessments are submitted to the NVE for processing.
Based on the application, impact assessments, received comments, and the NVE's expertise in wind power, the NVE assesses the case holistically and makes a decision.
The decision can be appealed by anyone with a legal interest in the case. If the NVE chooses to uphold the decision following the appeals, the case is sent to the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy for final processing.
Before construction can begin, the NVE, through the Environmental Surveillance Authority, must approve the environmental, transportation, and construction plans for the project.
This is when Multiconsult, as an external party, enters the picture.
– The assessment program sets the guidelines for the work we do. Based on that, we must respond to all the requirements from the authorities, explains Mork.
This is where the meticulous process of impact assessment begins. Fieldwork, investigations, observations, and analyses culminate in reports aimed at filling all knowledge gaps.
The very first thing the assessors do is ensure they gather all available information about the area.
– We talk to the state governor, county municipality, municipality, other local resource persons, and local residents. We assess the quality of the existing data before heading into the field to fill in the knowledge gaps that have been identified and acquire the best possible knowledge base, Mork explains.
In the case of the Davvi wind farm, the process has been ongoing for over ten years.
– The plans started in 2010-2012. Some fieldwork was done back then, but the project was put on hold until 2017. Since then, we have conducted new rounds of supplementary fieldwork, says Mork.
– This takes many years. We have just started a new project. I think there will be a permit decision here in about 6-7 years, he adds.
Once the impact assessment is completed, it is submitted with the permit application sent to the NVE. After this, new consultations follow.
– A new public meeting is held where the developer presents the development plans, and we present the impact assessment. So, the various consultation parties have another opportunity to ask questions and provide comments, input, and their views on the development plans, says Mork.
– It is often the case that those who are positive about the project think we are too strict in our assessments, and those who are negative think we are too lenient. I jokingly say that if we get about the same amount of criticism from both sides, we have probably done quite well, he adds.
It is often the case that those who are positive about the project think we are too strict in our assessments, and those who are negative think we are too lenient. I jokingly say that if we get about the same amount of criticism from both sides, we have probably done quite well
NVE summarizes all consultation responses, reviews the permit application and impact assessment, and makes its decision. Are the benefits greater than the disadvantages? Should a concession be granted or not?
Because it is the NVE that does this. As the party responsible for the impact assessment, it is not Multiconsult's role to take a position on whether wind power should be established or not.
– Our task is to provide a solid knowledge base so that the NVE can decide on the project and make a decision. In our reports, it is not a matter of recommending or discouraging development. It is not our mandate. We describe what the consequences will be, and it is up to the NVE to assess whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, emphasizes the Multiconsult advisor.