New environmental regulations on photovoltaic installations on agricultural land

As solar cells have become cheaper in recent years, interest in their installation has risen sharply, not only for rooftop solar cells, but also increasingly for large-scale solar farms. The size of the projects has increased in a relatively short time from a single hectare (and an installed MWp power) to the existence of structures of several tens of hectares, and projects of structures of more than 100 hectares .

The public interest in increasing non-fossil electricity generation, especially in southern Sweden, may however conflict with other interests. In addition to the interests and environmental interests of local residents, for example, it is also about the preservation of high-quality arable land for agricultural purposes, especially in Skåne. According to Chapter 3, Section 4 of the Swedish Environmental Code, agricultural land worthy of use may only be used for buildings or facilities if this is necessary to meet essential societal interests and this need cannot be satisfied generally satisfactorily by the use of other land. In particular, the Skåne County Administrative Board has – both in process and in the media – taken a strict stance in this balance of interests and believes that photovoltaic installations should preferably be installed at other locations, such as rooftops, bogs, dumps and disused airports.

The Växjö Land and Environmental Court recently ruled on a case in which this issue was highlighted. The developer’s application related to a photovoltaic installation project of just under five hectares on a property outside Ängelholm in Skåne. The county administrative board refused the power plant because, according to the board, the company had neither demonstrated that it had chosen a power generation site with the least intrusion and inconvenience to human health. and the environment, nor demonstrated that the plant could not be built in a place other than agricultural land worthy of use seen in a wider perspective outside the property concerned.

According to the company, the life of the solar panels is estimated at 30 years and the intention is to then remove the panels and restore the ground. The Court considered that this in itself constitutes a temporary claim to the land and that it is therefore not a question of permanently putting the land out of agricultural production. The Court further ruled that fossil-free electricity generation in Skåne and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions constitute an important public interest. In addition, near the property in question there are existing power lines that can be used for the supply of electricity from the photovoltaic plant to the grid, which can thus contribute to alleviating the lack of capacity that exists in terms of electricity. electricity supply. in southern Sweden.

Court judgment

Finally, the Court considered that the use of the land in question for a large-scale photovoltaic power plant is the most appropriate and requires good maintenance. The court therefore accepted the chosen venue, reversed the County Administrative Board’s banning decision, and sent the case back to the County Administrative Board to determine precautions regarding, for example, prescription and restoration.

Although the judgment has not yet been finalized, it will be interesting to see both what precautions can be determined and how this affects the assessment of the County Administrative Board when considering the much larger photovoltaic plants that are now planned in Skåne, among others. Lindahl’s energy and environmental groups are following this closely.

Amalia H. Mercado