Environmental protection issues in solar power projects

The development of renewable energy, including solar power (“SP”), has been more attractive in respect of investment. However, if the solar panels are discarded or improperly buried, they will be a huge source of waste that heavily pollutes the environment and endangers people’s health. So, how does Vietnamese law govern the environmental protection of SP projects?

Through this article, BLawyers Vietnam would like to present the issue of environmental protection in SP projects pursuant to the prevailing laws of Vietnam.

1. Regulations on environmental impact assessment (“EIA”) for SP projects

Currently, all SP plant investment projects must comply with EIA regulations or have an environmental protection plan (“EPP”). Accordingly, investment projects to build a photovoltaic plant with an area of 200ha or more must make an SP report, whereas projects with an area of 50ha to less than 200ha must register the EPP. There are no orders or procedures for EIA or EPP for small-scale projects under 50ha.

Although small-scale projects under 50ha do not have to carry out EIA procedures as well as the EPP, they still must implement the regulations on the management of ordinary solid waste and hazardous waste. At the same time, the collection, storage, transportation, and treatment of solar cells after their shelf life has expired must be executed under regulations.

2. Environmental protection regulations for discarded solar panels

Under Circular No. 18/2020/TT-BCT on project development and model power purchase contracts applicable to SP projects, SP investors are responsible for collecting, dismantling, and returning premises, as well as handling all supplies and equipment, waste generated by SP works during construction, operation, or at the end of the grid-connected SP project, and the roof SP system under the provisions of the law on environment. Thus, the investor must have the responsibility for handling broken and discarded solar panels.

Furthermore, Law on Environmental Protection 2014 and Circular No. 34/2017/TT-BTNMT also stipulate that manufacturers of products on the list of regulations must recall discarded products that they have sold to the Vietnamese market, and then organize the treatment of recalled waste products by waste management regulations in the form of direct treatment; transfer to domestic waste treatment units with appropriate functions; export abroad for recycling; reuse or other forms as prescribed.

Discarded solar panels are managed in accordance with waste management regulations. Accordingly, the waste source owner is responsible for disposing of waste from solar panels as prescribed in the National Technical Regulation on hazardous waste thresholds for appropriate management (QCVN 07:2009/BTNMT).

Currently, management agencies have encouraged investors to implement SP projects, develop clean and renewable energy, manufacturers, and distributors to conduct energy panels recovery after their useful life has expired, to recycle, reuse, and reduce waste. This is consistent with the State’s environmental policy, as outlined in Law on Environmental Protection 2014 and Law on Environmental Protection 2020 (effective from 01 January 2022).

3. Developing a legal framework for solar panels recovery and recycling

According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, solar panels are products that absorb energy from sunlight and convert it into electricity, as compared to other modes of batteries and accumulators that perform other electrical functions. Because it contains heavy metals or toxic emissions, this type of waste will pollute the soil and water environment if improperly buried. Therefore, the products must be added to the list of forced recalls and recycling.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment will advise the Government to develop a Decree guiding the implementation of Law on Environmental Protection in 2020, which proposes to include solar panel products on the list of products that waste source owners must carry out recall and recycling.

In addition, Law on Environmental Protection 2020 also requires organizations and individuals who manufacture and import products and packages containing hazardous substances that are difficult to recycle or cause difficulties in collection and treatment to pay financial contributions to the Vietnam Environmental Protection Fund to support waste treatment activities and delegate this content to the Government.

Furthermore, in the process of developing the Power Planning Project VIII, the Ministry of Industry and Trade has paid special attention to environmental protection in the development of the electricity sector. According to the Power Planning Project VIII, SP projects when investing in development must submit SP reports and be approved and monitored environmental issues by the Provincial People’s Committee during the project’s implementation and operation.

To summarize, to promote the strengths and benefits of SP, there should be regulations to strictly manage the implementation of SP projects, as well as a managing plan for offending SP projects. As a result, the development of renewable energy, including solar energy, will be sustainable.

Should you have any questions about the above contents, please revert to BLawyers Vietnam at consult@blawyersvn.com. We are more than happy to hear from you!

Date: 10 February 2022

Writer: Linh Nguyen

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