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Article Sweden: Government Proposes Changes to Wind Turbine Approval Process; Wind Turbine Expansion Plans Criticized

On February 24, 2022, the Swedish government sent a proposal on changes to the approval process for wind turbine prospects to the Council on Legislation (Lagrådet) for review (lagrådsremiss). The proposal would generally make municipalities responsible for issuing approvals for wind turbines within their areas but also limit their ability to object to individual plans. The proposal is part a larger government initiative to simplify the wind turbine approval process. (SOU 2021:53 En rättssäker vindkraftsprövning.) On March 3, 2022, the Law Council issued its review, finding no objection to the proposal.

Content of the Proposal

The proposal would amend the Environmental Code (Miljöbalken (MB)), limiting the current legislation on municipal vetoes on wind turbine projects by setting a fixed time frame for when a municipal decision must be delivered. Under the proposed rules, municipalities would have to respond to a request from a wind turbine prospector or other person or entity investigating the prospects of installing wind turbines in an area — including the government — within nine months, and the municipality’s decision would be legally binding for five years. (4 kap. 8a § & 8b § MB, as proposed.) The municipality would not be able to grant a partial approval or set conditions for its approval.

The government in its proposal highlighted a prior parliamentary decision (Rskr 2017/18:411) requiring that 100% of Swedish electricity production be renewable by 2040 and that investments in wind turbines be an integral part of achieving this goal.

According to the government’s proposal, the current wind turbine approval process is slow not only because it entails multiple approval steps, with the municipality involved in several stages of the process, but also because the municipality may change its mind after previously approving an area for wind turbines, which often occurs following a change in the political makeup of the municipality or new considerations.

For example, the Supreme Environmental Court (Mark- och miljööverdomstolen) in 2021 held in a case where a municipality had originally consented to a wind turbine park but later revoked its consent, citing noise issues, that because the municipality’s first approval was not legally binding on the municipality, there were no grounds for evaluating the wind turbine permit application. Thus, the municipality had been within their rights to revoke their prior consent, and the application was correctly dismissed for lacking the required municipal consent.

The proposal is scheduled to be voted on by the parliament on June 21, 2022. If the proposal is adopted, the duty for municipalities to respond to requests for approvals within nine months will enter into force on January 1, 2023, and all other changes on October 1, 2023.

Criticism of the Government’s Wind Turbine Expansion Plans

The Swedish government’s plans to expand wind turbines in the country have been criticized on a number of accounts. Members of parliament have criticized the expansion plans as hurting rural areas and communities and creating national security risks from foreign ownership of wind turbines, whereas others have called on the government to facilitate the establishment of more offshore wind turbines.

Recently, a Swedish media outlet — Sveriges Television — highlighted the foreign ownership of wind turbines in Sweden, noting that as much as 96% of the wind power in the far-north municipality of Norrbotten is foreign owned. Elsewhere Sveriges Television has reported that about two-thirds of the wind turbines in Sweden are foreign owned and that extensive Chinese ownership of Swedish wind turbines, in particular, is a national security risk.

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Chicago citation style:

Hofverberg, Elin. Sweden: Government Proposes Changes to Wind Turbine Approval Process; Wind Turbine Expansion Plans Criticized. 2022. Web Page. https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2022-03-21/sweden-government-proposes-changes-to-wind-turbine-approval-process-wind-turbine-expansion-plans-criticized/.

APA citation style:

Hofverberg, E. (2022) Sweden: Government Proposes Changes to Wind Turbine Approval Process; Wind Turbine Expansion Plans Criticized. [Web Page] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2022-03-21/sweden-government-proposes-changes-to-wind-turbine-approval-process-wind-turbine-expansion-plans-criticized/.

MLA citation style:

Hofverberg, Elin. Sweden: Government Proposes Changes to Wind Turbine Approval Process; Wind Turbine Expansion Plans Criticized. 2022. Web Page. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2022-03-21/sweden-government-proposes-changes-to-wind-turbine-approval-process-wind-turbine-expansion-plans-criticized/>.