As solar cells have become cheaper in recent years, interest in installing them has increased sharply, not only for solar cells on rooftops, but also increasingly for large-scale solar farms. The size of the projects has, in a fairly short time, gone from covering a single hectare (and MWp installed power) to the fact that there are now facilities of tens of hectares, and plans for facilities covering over 100 hectares.
The public interest in increasing the production of fossil-free electricity, 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 be used for buildings or installations only if it is necessary to meet essential societal interests and this need cannot be met in a generally satisfactory manner by the use of other land. In particular, the County Administrative Board of Skåne has - both in processes and in media, taken a strict stance in this balance of interests, and believes that photovoltaic installations should preferably be installed in other places, such as roofs, peat bogs, landfills and disused airports.
The Land and Environment Court in Växjö recently decided a case where this issue was brought to the fore. The developer's application related to a planned photovoltaic plant of just under five hectares on a property outside Ängelholm in Skåne. The County Administrative Board denied the plant because, according to the Board, the company had neither shown that it had chosen a site for electricity production with the least intrusion and inconvenience to human health and the environment, nor had it shown that the plant cannot be built in a place other than agricultural land worthy of use seen in a larger perspective outside the property concerned.
According to the company, the lifespan of the solar panels is estimated to be 30 years and the intention is to then remove the panels and restore the ground. The Court found that this in itself constitutes a temporary claim for the land and that it is therefore not a question of permanently putting the land out of agricultural production. The Court further ruled that the production of fossil-free electricity in Skåne and reduced carbon dioxide emissions is an important public interest. In addition, in the vicinity of the property in question, there are existing power lines that can be used for the supply of electricity from the PV plant to the grid, which can thereby help to alleviate the capacity shortage that exists in terms of electricity supplies in southern Sweden.
Judgement of the Court
Finally, the Court considered that the use of the land in question for a large-scale PV plant is the most suitable and entails good housekeeping. The Court thus accepted the chosen location, overturned the County Administrative Board's decision on a ban and referred the case back to the County Administrative Board for the determination of precautions regarding, for example, time limitation and restoration.
Although the judgment has not yet been finalised, it will be interesting to see both what precautions may be determined and how this affects the County Administrative Board's assessment when examining the many times larger photovoltaic plants that are now planned in Skåne, among others. Lindahl's energy and environmental groups are following this closely.
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