A court hearing concerning a legal case filed by environmental groups challenging an environmental impact assessment for prospective hydrocarbon exploration at two offshore licenses, west and southwest of Crete, by a consortium consisting of Total, ExxonMobil and Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE), has been suspended for a fourth time since 2019 by the Council of State, Greece’s Supreme Administrative Court, which has set a new date, October 5, 2022, according to sources.
The latest delay comes as a setback for the three-member consortium, which faces a first-stage exploration deadline preceding the new trial date.
Total, ExxonMobil and ELPE have planned seismic surveys at the two licenses, believed to offer natural gas production potential, but the trio cannot proceed with any exploration activity unless it overcomes this legal challenge.
Authorities tasked with assisting the government in legal action taken by environmental groups are seeking to move forward the new trial date, for a swifter conclusion.
The latest court delay highlights fears previously raised by upstream officials believing the country’s official policy on hydrocarbon deposit utilization remains ambiguous.
It remains to be seen how Total, ExxonMobil and ELPE will react to the hearing’s latest delay.
Power grid operator IPTO’s virtually completed grid infrastructure upgrade in the west of the Peloponnese, a crucial project promising to foster development of regional RES projects and also enable smoother functioning of power utility PPC’s natural gas-fired power station in Megalopoli along with its lignite-fired units, remains on hold, awaiting the energy ministry’s environmental-permit approval of a project deviation forced by monks at a nearby monastery.
The grid project, budgeted at 110 million euros and known as the Western Corridor, runs from Megalopoli to Patras, northwestern Peloponnese. It is planned to link the Megalopoli high-voltage center in the Peloponnese with an existing 400-KV line running across mainland Greece, from Acheloos to Distomo. Just two more pylons, of 400 in total, remain to be installed for its completion.
A court ruling following legal action taken by five monks forced project planners to reposition these two pylons, originally planned for installation approximately 500 meters from the Agion Theodoron monastery in Kalavryta, northern Peloponnese.
The project was initially included in the grid’s plan back in 2006 but its development did not commence until 2018. A related subsea line linking the Peloponnese with the mainland was installed in 2019.
At present, the Peloponnese is mainland Greece’s only area without a high-voltage (400 kV) connection. It is interconnected to the wider Athens area with 150 kV lines, like links used for islands, inhibiting green investments and large infrastructure projects planned for the country.
Contrary to popular opinion, recently ratified environmental impact licensing rules remain strict for renewable energy investors despite upper-limit capacity increases for wind and solar energy installations, sector officials have pointed out in comments to energypress.
Last August, the energy ministry increased the upper-limit capacity for Category B wind energy installations from 5 MW to 10 MW and Category B solar energy installations from 2 MW to 10 MW.
Investors behind Category B projects do not need to provide environmental impact studies but must meet predetermined environmental terms and all related terms included in a ministerial decision implemented back in January, 2013.
“It is not true that investors merely submit statements declaring that their projects do not have environmental impact, as has been generally said,” a sector official explained. “Investors must observe specific environmental terms and submit studies and data required by the ministerial decision from 2013,” the official added.
Special Ecological Assessments must be conducted for projects planned for protected Natura areas. Also, bird fauna studies must be included in investment applications for Special Protection Zones.
Furthermore, the ministry has advised licensing authorities to be particularly careful when examining project applications slicing big RES projects into a series of smaller projects as a means of simplifying licensing procedures. Such practices need to be stopped, the ministry has stressed.
The main power utility PPC’s chief official has admitted the corporation has begun conducting new environmental impact studies concerning lignite units included in a bailout-required sale package, as well as unts not for sale, as their temporary licenses are based on results of older and outdated environmental studies featuring looser terms.
PPC’s boss Manolis Panagiotakis was responding to related MP questions in parliament yesterday, as well as preceding remarks by a WWF representative, Nikos Mantzaris, who pointed out the existence of a licensing problem.
Older environmental impact studies, needed for licenses, do not take into account latest emission limits adopted by EU law, the WWF official had noted before PPC’s Panagiotakis admitted the problem has prompted the need for new studies, now being carried out. Fast action is needed to meet the sale’s strict schedule.
PPC’s new environmental studies will be completed within the next few weeks, meaning new licenses will be issued based on the results of these studies, the power utility head informed. These studies will cover PPC units included and not included in the sale package. A draft bill for the sale, represnting 40 percent of PPC’s lignite capacity, is being discussed in parliament.
Questions concerning the validity of environmental permits recently issued by the energy ministry for the main power utility PPC’s lignite units, raised by the main opposition New Democracy party in parliament, could impact the power utility’s ability to proceed with a bailout-required sale of lignite units.
It appears that most of the power utility’s lignite units operated with temporary licenses for over a decade as final environmental approval of seven lignite-fired and two diesel-fueled power stations with an overall production capacity of 4,389 MW, along with three lignite mines, remained pending during this prolonged period.
The energy ministry eventually issued licenses fully endorsing the environmental standards of these units in September, 2017. However, almost a year earlier, in December, 2016, the Council of State, Greece’s supreme administrative court, essentially rendered the terms applied for these permits as void because of the extended time period – over ten years – that had elapsed since PPC originally submitted its license applications.
The court assumed that environmental standards have changed during this period, meaning that a new study concerning the environmental footprint of PPC’s lignite units would be needed.
The New Democracy party MPs, in their questions submitted to parliament, enquired how PPC’s sale package of lignite units can proceed given the murky status of their environmental permits.
WWF Hellas has filed a case to the Counicl of State challenging the energy ministry’s move to isssue full environmental permits for PPC’s lignite units last September. The case is scheduled to be heard on May 25.