Letter Hugo de Jonge: restriction of solar parks?

On October 26, 2023, Minister of Housing and Spatial Planning Hugo de Jonge and Minister of Climate and Energy Rob Jetten published a letter on how the order of preference for solar energy will be further worked out. This room letter presented additional requirements for the development of solar parks on natural and agricultural land. The letter has been widely highlighted in media. We see that (media) parties have their own angle or give their own interpretation. The letter has created a lot of confusion and we receive many questions about it. We have listed an explanation of these questions here.

Are solar parks no longer necessary?

Solar parks are necessary to achieve our sustainable goals in the Netherlands. Energy conservation, solar panels on roofs and offshore wind farms are insufficient. Without solar panels on farmland, we won’t make it (in time). This is evident not only from the Regional Energy Strategies, but also, for example, from the sharply rising demand for sustainably generated electricity (the National Energy System Plan assumes a fourfold increase by 2050).

Do developers dictate that solar parks should be build?

No. The letter states that in the past the market was leading with regard to the development of solar parks and that governments lacked guiding policies. This is unjustified. Many examples of policy frameworks (or ground rules) have been made by provinces and municipalities for the development of solar parks over the past year. These are ground rules that we as initiators must abide by. If you do not comply with these rules, the developer will not get a permit. Almost all these policy frameworks contain rules on biodiversity, soil quality, participation, local ownership, grid connection and incorporation. Also, the so-called solar ladder is applied everywhere. The solar ladder means that for the development of solar energy, the possibility of solar panels on roofs and facades, on land inside and outside the existing built-up area is first examined. If these options offer insufficient possibilities, solar panels on agricultural land are considered. Developing a solar farm on land does not happen overnight. Good agreements are made with local residents, the authorities involved, energy cooperatives and the landowner.

Solarpanels on roofs first, then solar parks?

No. The new Parliament letter clearly states that the tightened order of preference solar will be implemented with sequentiality. So the solar ladder will remain sequential. Steps one, two and three have preference, step four is possible and allowed if necessary. So all four steps will be worked on simultaneously. In view of the urgency of energy transition, a deliberate choice was made not to work sequentially. Sequentiality would mean that development on level four would only be possible when the possibilities on levels one, two and three have been fully utilized. It may take decades before all suitable roofs are filled with solar panels.

Solar parks on nature?

No solar parks will be developed on natural land. This is laid down in the ‘Code of Conduct for Sun on Land‘. This code of conduct contains rules that developers must comply with. Provinces and municipalities also do not designate natural areas as locations where solar parks can be licensed.

What does this letter mean for me as a local resident?

Nothing will change for local residents. In the letter, resident participation and the pursuit of 50% local ownership remain of great importance. We remain committed to a good participation process. With every project, the neighborhood is informed, the neighborhood can think along with the project, give interpretation to the design and there is the possibility to benefit financially. This already happens in the current policy and will remain so according to the policy from the parliamentary letter. We do the energy transition together.

What does this letter mean for me as a landowner?

Little will change for landowners. We will stay in close contact with our (future) landowners. Even if the policy of the parliamentary letter is adopted, solar parks will still be allowed under stricter conditions, the so-called unless rule/conditions. These include solar park(s) where there is also space for cultivation and food production (Agri-PV) and agricultural land designated by a municipality or province for another use (transition land). Is Agri-PV an interesting option for your business operations or will your agricultural land be designated for another use? If so, it is an option to look into the possibility of a solar park now.

Even without Agri-PV or transition land, a solar park may be interesting. We are happy to explore together the option of developing a grid-neutral solar park, where we can contribute to reducing grid congestion with the solar park and battery storage.

What does the letter mean for the municipality?

For the municipality, some things may change. First, the relationship between the municipality and the province will change with the arrival of this Chamber letter. When granting permits, municipalities will have to check whether this is in line with the (new) provincial environmental regulations. In addition, the new Environment Act will most likely come into force on January 1, 2024. This too will bring many changes for municipalities, through new working methods, for example. We urge municipalities to continue with solar park projects and to stay in dialogue with the province and RES parties about how we are going to meet the energy goals. Together with the RES partners, the municipality made a significant contribution to shaping the RES plans. This was an extensive and careful democratic process. Solar farms on agricultural land are an important part of this. As an involved government, the municipality gives direction to the energy transition.

Reaction TPSolar

We have prepared a general response and appeal following the letter. This can be read here. We meet the conditions of the letter with our current and new projects, so the impact remains minimal. However, we are concerned about the sentiment about the realization of solar energy. After all, this fulfills an important role in the future energy mix.