LISBON, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Portugal wants to speed up investments in green hydrogen projects, which are essential to decarbonize the economy, and will end mandatory environmental assessments for them in March 2023, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said.
Portugal expects to become a major producer and exporter of green hydrogen with 70 private investors or groups planning to spend 10 billion euros ($10.51 billion).
The measure is part of a package to reduce bureaucracy, which also ends mandatory environmental assessments for solar plants that occupy less than 100 hectares and for wind farms with towers that are more than 2 km apart, Costa said.
Environmentalists have criticized the so-called Simplex package as it may have impacts on nature and the well-being of populations.
Green hydrogen, produced using solar and wind electricity, could be a key power source that can reduce pollution from long-haul heavy transport, and steel and chemical industries.
"Environmental impact assessment and environment license will no longer be necessary (because) we want to create better conditions for investment in green hydrogen production, which is absolutely crucial to accelerate the energy transition and decarbonize the economy," he said late on Wednesday.
He said the current environmental licensing process "has a bureaucratic burden, which increases the context costs and limits the investments."
The activist NGO GEOTA said the Simplex package could "cause significant damage to the environment".
The end of environmental assessments was especially serious as "it could lead to the development of new large photovoltaic solar power plants," it said.
Portugal hopes that its strong focus on low-cost wind and solar energy will allow it to produce hydrogen and other renewable gases at competitive prices.
In Portugal, 60% of electricity consumption comes from renewable sources, and the government wants that share to reach 80% by 2026.
The three main glass producers and two biggest cement makers, together accounting for 10% of the country's industrial carbon emissions, also joined a new consortium to launch a green hydrogen plant.
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