The opening paragraph in a consultation launched by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy yesterday states that the Energy National Policy Statements – covering fossil-fuelled power generation, renewables, gas supply, electricity networks and nuclear power – “need to reflect the government’s energy policy”, and that they may no longer be fit for purpose.
This is an oblique reference to the department’s concession in October that the suite, published in 2011, is outdated due to the wealth of policy that has been put in place since then, not the least the net zero commitment, ending coal power by October 2024 and Brexit. Under the Planning Act, NPSs must be reviewed if there has been a “significant change” in circumstances.
EN-6, which covers nuclear power, has been excluded from the consultation, “as there are no changes material to the limited circumstances in which it will have effect”, the document states. Nevertheless, a replacement for new facilities opening after 2025, “will be developed to reflect the changing policy and technology landscape”.
Despite their flaws, the current NPSs will remain valid until replaced and will not be withdrawn. This means that the framework that permitted decisions such as approving Drax’s conversion from coal to gas – subsequently abandoned – will stay in place for the moment.
Proposals in the consultation see the draft overarching ‘EN-1’ statement amended substantially, to refer to both net zero and the 78% by 2035 emissions target, “Confirming our future generation mix will come from a range of sources including renewables, nuclear, low carbon hydrogen; with residual use of unabated natural gas and crude oil fuels for heat, electricity, transport, and industrial applications, as we transition.”
A reference to the need for new coal generation has been struck out and an explanation of the need for new generation, network, storage and interconnection infrastructure added, alongside measures such as energy efficiency and demand-side response.
The draft gas NPS has new sections on hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, while the one covering renewables has been updated “to reflect the important role that renewables will play in developing a low carbon economy and meeting government’s net zero targets,” says the consultation paper. It no longer provides information on onshore wind, reflecting the removal of such schemes from the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime in England and Wales.
More substantial changes have been made to the section on offshore wind, noting the target to have a capacity of 40 gigawatts in place by 2030 – it is currently about 15GW – and other developments in policy, technology and best practices over the past decade. These include new sections on marine planning, coordinating offshore transmission, net gain and the 25-Year Environment Plan.
Further additions include technical and landscape considerations for solar power and for tidal stream generation, setting out the consenting process and exploring the ecological impacts of the nascent technology.
The most significant change to the ‘EN-5’ statement on networks is a change of policy on burying electricity lines. “Whilst pylon-supported overhead conductors should be the strong starting presumption for new electricity lines generally, this situation is reversed in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. In these areas, the strong starting presumption will be that new lines should be undergrounded,” says the paper.
Meanwhile, the Department for Transport has rejected opening a review into the Airports National Policy Statement, considering that it is not an appropriate time due to uncertain demand caused by Covid-19, among other factors.