In order to lawful operate a RES station in Greece an investor shall, as a the first and most crucial step, is to identify the suitable land for the establishment of the project. This initial is rather complicated in Greece, due to specific particularities, such as the lack of a complete cadastral system, the lack of completed accurate forest maps and dispersed, often modified legislative provisions.
According to the Greek legislation there are two main ways of legal possession: (a) the purchase of agricultural parcels; and
(b) their long-term lease (usually 25 years with the possibility of renewal)
Types of land suitable for RES projects
According to the current legal framework, RES projects are in principle allowed to be installed in any land plots and all regions of the country, under the precondition of environmental licensing and specific restrictions and pre-requisite permits that are described below (i.e. forest area/approval of intervention, Natura 2000/ special ecological assessment).
The exceptions on the above rule, are described restrictively, below:
- a) Areas that have been institutionalized as areas of absolute nature protection according to articles 19 and 21 of law 1650/1986 as amended an in force
- b) The declared protected monuments of the world cultural heritage as well as the demarcated archeological protection zones A that have been determined according to the provisions of no. 91 of law 1892/1991 or according to the provisions of law 3028/2002,
- c) Wetlands of international importance (Ramsar).
In the bellow cases, although the establishment of a RES project is allowed by the legislative framework , an investor has to examine the following, in order to minimize possible risks and delays:
– As to whether the installation area is qualified as forest area:
The possibility of interventions in forests and forest areas, provided for in the Greek Constitution (article 24) in order to serve purposes of public interest, was specified in the framework of forest legislation, as it currently stands.
The possibility of locating RES within forests and forest areas is provided in Article 7 of the Greek Law 3468/2006, which specifies that RES stations and any project related to their construction and operation may be installed and operated within forest areas (either on public forest areas or in private forest), under the condition that the project will obtain the necessary intervention approval (“έγκριση επέμβασης”) from the competent forest authority.
The above-mentioned approval, is incorporated in the environmental permit, whether the project is in category A or in category B.
The administrative procedure concerning the issuance of the approval of intervention at the stage of environmental licensing, is described bellow:
The investor submits the Environmental Impact study to the competent authority, which puts it up for public consultation and forwards it for opinion to the relevant Forest Authority. The competent forest office makes a positive suggestion or not regarding the intervention and approves its grant by a decision of the Coordinator of Decentralized Administration.
In addition, for the execution of the intervention in the forest area, the investor has to pay a price for the use of the forest, as well as to reforest an area corresponding to the one in which he will intervene and to restore the area in which he intervened after the operation of the RES project.
A prerequisite for the project to receive an intervention approval is that the forest character of the area has been legally certified. This is ensured either through the relevant posted and ratified forest map, or, if there is no such, with a final and binding act of characterization of the area by the competent forest authority.
As to whether the installation area is characterized as a Natura 2000 area:
In order to determine the permitted land uses (including the installation of RES projects) in Natura 2000 areas , article 21 par. 4 of Law 1650/1986 as replaced by article 47 par. 1 of law 4685/2020, provides:
« presidential decree, issued on the proposal of the Minister of Environment and Energy and after the opinion of the Nature 2000 Committee, on the basis of the respective special environmental study and taking into account the respective management plan, biodiversity protection areas and national parks are designated. their demarcation and the determination of adjacent areas of paragraph 4 of Article 18, where necessary, as well as the determination of land uses and activities within the above protected areas, per zone, and in the adjacent areas»
The new licensing law (4685/2020) is more lenient on installation restrictions in Natura 2000 areas, as it determines special zones where a RES project can be established. It is nevertheless possible that the development of projects within these areas may go through long-term delays, due to legal actions by residents and environmental organizations. Furthermore, in these cases, additional costs are imposed to the investor since environmental licensing in these areas requires, on top of the rest of the required documents, the submission of a special ecological evaluation study.
The above matters may cause time consuming impediments at the environmental licensing procedure, so it is important for an investor to be informed of them at the soonest stage possible.
In order to summarize , it is crucial for an investor to receive expertized legal advice and to proceed with an analytic due diligence report concerning the identified land plots, in order to be sure that their ownership status is clear and legally registered in the competent cadastral office, that they bear no claims or encumbrances and that either there are no administrative restrictions such as the above mentioned , or they can be dealt with within a reasonable timeframe and cost.