What types of energy project prove most contentious in your jurisdiction and why?

In Portugal, the most contentious energy projects are those that have or may have a social and environmental impact and which involve the construction of large-scale energy infrastructure – in particular, large hydroelectric power plants. Although uncommon in Portugal, opposition may arise when:

  • projects are subject to environmental assessment procedures and the favourable or conditionally favourable environmental impact statement is challenged by environmental organisations and local communities; and
  • the law does not require this kind of assessment to be carried out and associations and local communities advocate that the project should be subject to such an assessment.

Have any energy projects been delayed or frustrated in your jurisdiction following successful public opposition? If so, what lessons can be learned for future projects?

A small number of energy projects have been delayed or frustrated following successful public opposition, including:

  • large hydroelectric power plants that were awarded conditionally favourable environmental impact statements; and
  • the prospection and search for hydrocarbons, which is not subject to environmental assessment procedures.

Public opposition has even in some cases encouraged the government to take action, by either negotiating the termination of agreements with stakeholders or requesting the analysis of licensing procedures and agreements in order to identify grounds for the revocation of rights previously granted.

Who should have standing to oppose new energy projects? Only parties that are directly affected, such as local communities, or also parties that are indirectly affected, such as environmental organisations?

Energy projects in Portugal have faced opposition from both local communities and environmental organisations.

What steps can government and stakeholders in your jurisdiction take to overturn successful public opposition to new energy projects?

Striking a balance between providing local communities with certainty and promoting the development of new energy projects, as well as avoiding disproportionate obligations being placed on stakeholders before energy projects become operational, are not easy tasks. The environmental assessment regime and the corresponding procedures are adequate and in line with EU legislation and international commitments that Portugal has undertaken, but they may impose burdensome obligations on stakeholders.

However, energy projects are most likely to receive support from communities when the stakeholders adopt compensatory measures that benefit the environment (to offset any damage that may occur), the community and the corresponding municipality. The adoption of compensatory measures agreed directly with local communities (via municipalities) has proven to be effective in this regard. In some cases, Portuguese law has determined that a small portion of revenue from renewable projects should be provided to municipalities.

What strategies can governments and stakeholders adopt to promote local support, improve community engagement?

Stakeholders sometimes invest in the specific needs of each local community directly by sponsoring education or art projects (the most significant of which is the WindArt project).

For further information on this topic please contact Catarina Brito Ferreira or Joana Alves de Abreu at Morais Leitão Galvão Teles Soares da Silva & Associados by telephone (+351 21 381 74 57) or email (cbferreira@mlgts.pt or jabreu@mlgts.pt). The Morais Leitão Galvão Teles Soares da Silva & Associados website can be accessed at www.mlgts.pt.

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