Memorandum submitted by the UK Business Council for Sustainable Energy (NPS 29)

 

 

 

1.1 The UKBCSE was formed in 2002 to support the fastest possible transition to a low carbon economy consistent with maintaining secure and affordable UK energy supplies. UKBCSE's members include Centrica, EDF Energy, E.ON UK, National Grid, RWE NPower, ScottishPower and Scottish and Southern Energy. This written evidence is submitted on behalf of all our members, each of whom will also be submitting their own written evidence and appearing before the Committee.

 

1.2 During the passage of the Bill through Parliament and the development of its subsequent regulations and guidance, UKBCSE has been working closely with the UK's major energy trade associations - the Association of Electricity Producers, the British Wind Energy Association, the Energy Networks Association, the Gas Forum and the Renewable Energy Association - all of whom support and have contributed to this submission to the Select Committee.

 

1.3 UKBCSE welcomes the scrutiny of the Draft National Policy Statements (NPSs) by this Committee, which, together with the continuing public consultation, gives greater legitimacy and status to NPSs, and we are therefore pleased to submit evidence to this inquiry.

 

1.4 UKBCSE strongly supports NPSs as fundamental to the success of the necessary reform of the planning system. We generally welcome their content, style and the necessary level of detail, however there are a few areas of specific detail where we believe further work is required prior to designation of the NPSs. These areas will be expanded on in our more detailed response to the Department of Energy and Climate Change consultation.

 

 

2.0 Executive Summary

 

Key Recommendations

 

In particular, we would encourage the Committee to:

 

Acknowledge the importance of, and strengthening the wording on the Statements of Need within the energy NPSs, as invaluable in clearly stating Government policy on the need for the range of included technologies, thereby avoiding the need for lengthy debates on the need at each individual planning inquiry;

Support the need for NPSs to be robust and sufficiently detailed to enable assessment of applications for compliance, thereby again avoiding the need for further debate on national policy-related issues at planning inquiry;

Support the need for flexibility concerning the submission of different elements of a project, with the option for each in their own right being submitted as a NSIP (nationally significant infrastructure projects), whilst endorsing the proposed approach, which requires developers to ensure that an appropriate level of detail is included to enable the IPC (Infrastructure Planning Commission) and stakeholders to understand any likely associated implications;

Acknowledge that 2020 / 2025 is not the end of the journey in terms of energy infrastructure investment, with significant amounts required well beyond, and suggest to DECC that they include further emphasis of investment requirements from 2030 to 2050, including reference to the Renewable Energy Strategy and the Climate Change Committee First Progress Report.

 

The Scale of the Energy Challenge

2.1 It is widely recognised that the UK is coming out of a period of "energy plenty", with the decline of North Sea gas supplies and many existing power stations reaching the end of their lives. Over a third of the UK's existing generation needs replacing within the next 15 to 20 years and within a decade up to 80% of the UK's gas will need to be imported if Government's objective of maintaining the current high levels of security of energy supply is to be met.

 

2.2 The scale of the challenge to meet Government's energy policy goals of addressing climate change and ensuring continued security of the UK's energy supplies requires a sustained multi-billion pound investment programme to build a range of energy technologies to deliver both a balanced fuel mix and the transition to a secure low carbon economy.

 

2.3 In short the UK needs very significant investment in a range of low carbon energy technologies and in the networks infrastructure necessary to deliver that energy to consumers - electricity and gas, big and small, onshore and offshore and across the UK. The UKBCSE's members, along with those of the UK's major energy trade associations mentioned above, will be responsible for providing a very substantial proportion of the nationally significant energy infrastructure projects necessary to provide secure low carbon energy supplies. All of this investment must be undertaken in a way that takes account of the views of communities and respects precious landscapes and environments.

 

The Role of National Policy Statements (NPSs)

 

2.4 In order to deliver the necessary very substantial investment programme in the UK's energy infrastructure, the UK needs a broadly consistent long-term policy framework, which clearly sets out the Government's energy policies and priorities for all.

 

2.5 In particular, we believe that NPSs are fundamental to establishing a stable policy framework to enable the very substantial infrastructure investment programme needed to address climate change and ensure continued security of supply of the UK's energy supplies. Without the necessary stability and clearly defined policy framework, developers may at best continue to experience uncertainty over timescales and delays through repeated debate over Government policy at planning inquiries, and at worst may therefore choose to invest outside the UK.

 

2.6 Equally, NPSs must clearly spell out the urgent need case, both overall and for each technology / infrastructure. The suite of energy NPSs set out in general terms the need case for the different technologies. This is vital, but UKBCSE / Industry believes that, given the potential major concerns over security of supply, the NPSs need to be realistic about the scale of the need for each technology and the networks necessary to bring energy to market.

 

2.7 The need cases should therefore be strengthened from "significant" to emphasising the critical importance of delivering investment in each technology, and should provide clarity over the weight that the IPC should give to the respective need cases.

 

2.8 Additionally, NPSs need to be robust, relevant and clear to provide sufficient detail to communities / stakeholders, statutory consultees, local authorities and promoters on key issues that get raised time and time again at planning inquiries. Such clarity will enable all involved to efficiently assess proposals' compliance with national policy, and therefore spend more time on those local issues which could affect the surrounding community and how best to address them. Conversely, the absence of such clear guidance in the NPSs could lead to continued debate at each stage of the consents process, which would negate one of the major benefits of NPSs.

 

2.9 Finally, there needs to be recognition of the need for flexibility in the IPC's ability to consider related nationally significant infrastructure projects as linked proposals, via joint applications, or as separate projects in their own right.

 

2.10 We therefore welcome NPSs as the primary basis for decisions by the IPC on nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs). We also support their use as material considerations for both local planning authorities on smaller-scale energy projects, and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) when considering sub 100MW projects in the marine area - as well as providing invaluable guidance to all stakeholders and developers.

 

Reform of the Planning Regime

 

2.11 Prior to the Planning Act 2008 the consents regime for nationally significant energy infrastructure projects was too complex, too lengthy, too uncertain for both developers and communities and too costly.

 

2.12 In order to deliver this step-change in investment, the Council and the wider industry has long supported the reform of the planning regime, including the majority of the Planning Act 2008 provisions. These reforms deliver an integrated package which will enable more timely, transparent, cost-effective, certain and fairer decision-making on nationally significant infrastructure projects.

 

2.13 As well as a stable policy framework delivered by NPSs, developers need certainty in terms of the time a project will take to go through the planning system. Therefore, whilst ensuring full and fair consideration of all the issues, the implementation of pre-agreed timescales within the nationally significant infrastructure project regime under the jurisdiction of the IPC, is essential.

 

2.14 Equally, by placing a statutory requirement on pre-application consultation, as well as the opportunity to provide both written and oral representations to the IPC, potentially affected communities have the chance to engage on individual proposals earlier and in a more meaningful way than under the existing regime.

 

2.15 Finally, the establishment of a single consenting regime with the IPC as a single independent decision making body, will streamline the planning system to provide greater certainty, efficiency and consistency for all, whilst ensuring the quality of decision making, including community and stakeholder involvement, is improved.

 

Conclusion

 

2.16 UKBCSE welcomes NPSs as the fundamental plank which underpins the integrated package of planning reforms so necessary to enable the UK to meet its twin goals of secure and affordable energy supplies whilst addressing the challenge of climate change.

 

2.17 We support the integrated nature, style, level of detail and content of the energy NPSs and believe the layout is easy to follow. This, along with clearly setting out the UK's overarching energy needs, also provides a generally good level of information on types of technologies, their likely impacts and how these can be mitigated. This level of detail is not only very helpful but necessary, as it will set out clearly what the IPC, local authorities, statutory consultees and potentially affected communities can expect from a proposed development and its impact, and from its developer in terms of mitigation. We do however, note a number of areas where we believe small modifications are needed to remove any ambiguities and prevent delays in the future.

 

2.18 In order to be effective the NPSs must give clear, specific and unambiguous direction to the IPC, industry and stakeholders. The suite of energy NPSs, as currently drafted, generally provide both the stable policy framework that energy developers require in order to invest, and, on the whole, the right level of detail to enable effective assessment of compliance with national policy. This detail will be necessary in order to enable the IPC and all other relevant parties to satisfactorily consider the relevant issues that could affect a local community. However, whilst generally satisfactory for this purpose, in some cases we would welcome an even greater level of detail.

 

 

3.0 The Scale of the Challenge

 

3.1 Radical reform of the planning regime remains essential to delivering the very substantial amount of energy infrastructure necessary to make the transition to a low-carbon economy, to ensure continued security of the UK's energy supplies and attract inward investment into the UK. The Government's Renewable Energy Strategy and Low Carbon Transition Plan clearly recognise these imperatives.

 

3.2 The Climate Change Act 2008 sets a statutory target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. The EU Renewable Energy Directive has set the UK a legally binding target of achieving 15% of all energy from renewable sources by 2020. This will require a step-change in renewables development to move the UK from 5.5 % of electricity generated by renewables currently, to around 30% by 2020.

 

3.3 However, 2020 is not the end of the journey and continued investment is needed well beyond, as confirmed in the Climate Change Committee's First Progress Report, which recommends that the electricity industry should be significantly decarbonised by 2030 to enable low carbon power to form the basis for decarbonising the rest of the economy and delivery of the 2050 target.

 

3.4 Also, within a decade the UK will be importing up to 80% of its gas, which will require new gas import, reception and storage facilities as well as significant investment in the integrated gas transmission and distribution networks to enable gas to reach the market.

 

3.5 In short, the UK needs a diverse portfolio with extensive investment in all types of energy technologies and infrastructure - electricity and gas, big and small, onshore and offshore and across the UK and including significant investment in the energy networks that enable energy to reach the market. As recognised by the Government when launching the draft NPSs, the transition to a low carbon economy will require a phased transfer from carbon-intensive energy technologies. Therefore this will continue to necessitate investment in the nation's gas infrastructure (both reception facilities and the national gas transmission network / gas distribution networks), as well as the development of carbon capture, transportation and storage (CCS) technology to potentially enable existing coal-fired power stations to continue generating, and the construction of new coal-fired generation (providing CCS can be proven to work at a commercial scale and the costs of retrofitting do not preclude such an option).

 

3.6 In addition to the existing need cases in the draft NPSs, we believe there should also be an explicit reference to the need for carbon dioxide transportation and storage infrastructure and as well as appropriate information on assessment of impacts, mitigation measures and a statement on IPC decision making for these infrastructures included within EN-1 and EN-2. New carbon dioxide transport and storage infrastructure will be needed to support the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) chain, taking captured carbon away from power stations and industrial emitters and transporting it for permanent storage underground.

 

3.7 Alongside these technologies, companies believe nuclear power is a proven largescale technology which has the potential to continue to make a major contribution to the UK's electricity generation through investment in safe and efficient modern designs of nuclear reactors.

 

3.8 All energy developers need a broadly consistent long-term policy framework and a planning regime that is effective and fair, but most importantly gives them, affected communities and their representatives certainty. The Planning Act reforms are an integrated package, which together deliver a more timely, certain, unified and effective planning regime to enable decisive investment whilst ensuring enhanced community engagement.

 

3.9 Appropriate incentives are required to stimulate investment in low carbon technologies. A long-term carbon price, reflecting the cost of emitting carbon dioxide from fossil fuel generation is essential to underpin investment in low carbon generation of all types, including renewables, nuclear and CCS.

 

 

4.0 The Role of National Policy Statements (NPSs)

 

4.1 The NPSs are critical to the success of both planning reform and delivering the UK's energy policy. They need to provide, and as currently drafted do broadly set out, a stable long-term policy framework.

 

4.2 Equally, it is vital that they give clarity on issues, which are raised time and time again at planning inquiries. Therefore, they need to be robust and sufficiently detailed to enable efficient and effective assessment of applications for compliance, thereby negating the need for further debate on national policy-related issues at inquiry level. This will enable greater opportunity to review and address the impact on the local community and environment.

 

4.3 The Overarching NPS for Energy (EN-1) sets out the Government's energy policy priorities; the need case for each electricity and gas technology and the equal need for investment in the electricity and gas networks. It also helpfully confirms that in order to address climate change and ensure continued secure and affordable energy supplies, a wide range of energy technologies will be necessary for the foreseeable future.

 

4.4 Therefore, when considering a prospective energy project, either the IPC, or in the case of smaller-scale energy proposals, the relevant local planning authority or other relevant decision maker, can begin assessing proposals on the basis that the national need has been established, and not waste lengthy periods of time debating the national need. This will provide much greater time to assess the local impacts of a proposal and whether they can be satisfactorily resolved / mitigated.

 

4.5 However, whilst welcoming this recognition, the Council believes that the need case for all the various energy technologies / infrastructures should be strengthened still further from the need being "significant" to emphasising the critical importance of delivering investment in all technologies to maintain security of supply and address climate change. Specifically the need case for gas infrastructure should be strengthened within EN-1 and EN-2. Equally, EN-1 should spell out that the IPC should give substantial or considerable weight to the need case for each technology.

 

4.6 Equally, the value of setting out national policy in a single place is that by including Government's policy on particular issues within the relevant NPS, this will provide clarity for developers, the IPC, statutory consultees, local planning authorities and potentially affected communities, and hence again negate the need for lengthy and needless debate. A good example of this is electric and magnetic fields (EMFs), where planning inquiries considering electricity overhead line projects often spend much time debating the science surrounding EMFs. By setting out Government policy on EMFs and the compliance standards network operators will have to meet, everyone will know exactly what is required to make a prospective project compliant, and can therefore concentrate on the local issues such as the proposed route, the impacts, amenity issues and how to satisfactorily address them.

 

4.7 We also support NPSs' use as material considerations for both local planning authorities on smaller-scale energy projects, and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) when considering sub 100MW projects in the marine area - as well as providing invaluable guidance to all stakeholders and developers.

 

4.8 Of course many renewable projects, whilst not nationally significant infrastructure projects, share the same characteristics and impacts of development covered in EN-3. As currently drafted, Paragraph 1.2.4 states that an NPS "may" be a material consideration in decision making on an application under the Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA). UKBCSE strongly believes that this wording should be strengthened and that all NPSs including in particular the Renewables NPS should be afforded equivalent status within the TCPA regime.

 

4.9 Lastly, the suite of energy NPSs do not appear to consider period post 2020 for renewables and gas, and post 2025 for nuclear and coal. Given the nature, scale and timescales of investments required, the NPSs need to recognise that this investment will be required beyond these timescales (as confirmed by the Climate Change Committee First Progress Report which considers potential investment in the period 2030 to 2050.

 

 

5.0 NPSs - Style, Content and Approach

 

Format and Style

 

5.1 The Council and the wider industry welcome the format and style of the NPSs, and in particular the cross-referencing between NPSs and with the Planning Act 2008, which ensure consistency and provide information on:

 

The most common impacts;

What applicants must include in the Environmental Statement / application;

The most likely mitigation measures that could be used to offset or eliminate impacts;

What the IPC should expect from applicants and with whom it should consult.

 

5.2 The provision of information on impacts and mitigation will enable all stakeholders to know upfront what they can expect in terms of likely impacts arising from a project, including guidance to developers regarding the actions they will be expected to take in order to minimise that impact. This level of detail is therefore helpful, and providing that the IPC deems that the proposed development meets with the requirements of the relevant NPSs, it will allow greater time and focus to be given to project-specific impacts on the local community / environment.

 

Non-Spatial Approach

 

5.3 We welcome the spatial approach taken within the Nuclear NPS (EN-6) and ask that the spatial nature of the Crown Estate leasing process also be referred to within the Renewable NPS (EN-3). However, we agree that a non-spatial approach for the remaining technologies is the most sensible approach and important for a number of reasons including:

 

The importance of market influences in determining where and when to develop nationally significant energy infrastructure projects;

The range of technical, operational, commercial, ecological and other environmental considerations that determine where a developer might consider proposing a project e.g. the geological constraints affecting underground gas storage or the proximity of the grid network for all forms of generation;

The evolution of energy technologies and mitigation measures which could quickly affect the legitimacy of any assumptions leading to spatial "mapping" for differing technologies, thereby quickly rendering the NPSs out of date;

The resource intensive nature of undertaking detailed spatial planning (be it centrally, regionally or locally) which would inevitably delay the introduction of NPSs;

Even more importantly, the planning regime is based on a plan-led system based on Local Development Frameworks and Regional Spatial Strategies, which look holistically at the needs of communities. With the exception of nuclear, which is largely based on existing nuclear sites and therefore warrants a different approach, any national spatial approach for other individual technologies would cut across the fundamental principles of a plan-led system which encapsulates local democracy, enshrined within the planning system for decades.

 

Flexibility

 

5.4 Whilst the new regime very much improves the ability for the authorising authority and all stakeholders to consider the holistic implications of any nationally significant infrastructure project, it is important that it also retains flexibility around submission of different elements of a project, with the option for each in their own right being submitted as a NSIP e.g. a proposed electricity generation project and any connection or indeed deeper reinforcement of the electricity network system. In such cases, these different aspects may be undertaken by different legal entities with different regulatory and commercial backgrounds.

 

5.5 For a range of technical, commercial or environmental reasons it may not be appropriate for a generator or gas reception facilities developer to include within their consent application the connecting assets or any necessary network reinforcement works. However, we support the requirement in those circumstances for an applicant to have to demonstrate that there are appropriate alternatives for connection to the gas or electricity grids.

 

5.6 The proposed approach strikes the right balance enabling the IPC and other stakeholders to understand the likely full implications of a proposed development, whilst enabling the developers of the respective elements of an energy project, the opportunity for one party to apply on behalf of all involved; to jointly apply or to apply separately.

 

Alternative Sites

 

5.7 Industry welcomes the wording laid out in Section 4.4 (Alternatives) of EN - 1 the Overarching NPS for Energy, which confirms that when there is a policy or legal requirement to consider alternatives (such as under the Habitats or Water Framework Directives) the IPC should frame any consideration of alternatives in the context of the scale and urgency of the UK's need for energy infrastructure.

 

5.8 The section also allows the IPC to potentially exclude vague or inchoate alternatives or to potentially place the onus on third parties proposing an alternative to provide any necessary evidence.

 

5.9 Whilst energy developers will themselves normally consider all reasonable expedient alternatives, and / or take into account suggestions from stakeholders, a range of technical, operational, commercial, geological, ecological and other environmental factors often render alternatives unsuitable.

 

5.10 The proposed approach will ensure that all genuinely viable alternatives are considered whilst making sure that the proposing of alternatives is not used to unnecessarily frustrate or delay valid applications who have consulted fully with the affected community, the local planning authority and statutory consultees to develop the best all-round proposal.

 

 

6.0 Recommendations

 

6.1 In order to be effective the NPSs must give clear, specific, unambiguous direction to the IPC, and inform the work of both industry and stakeholders. The suite of energy NPSs, as currently drafted, generally provide both the stable policy framework energy developers need to invest, and, on the whole, the right level of detail to enable effective assessment of compliance with national policy. This provides more opportunity for the IPC and all stakeholders during IPC consideration or planning inquiries to consider and satisfactorily deal with the relevant issues that could affect a local community. The level of detail is generally satisfactory for this purpose but in some cases we would welcome additional detail as an aid to clarity.

 

6.2 In particular, we urge the Committee to:

 

Acknowledge the importance of, and recommend the strengthening of the wording on the Statements of Need within the energy NPSs, as invaluable in clearly stating Government policy on the need for the range of included technologies, thereby avoiding the need for lengthy debates on the need at each individual planning inquiry;

Support the need for NPSs to be robust and sufficiently detailed to enable assessment of applications for compliance, thereby again avoiding the need for further debate on national policy-related issues at planning inquiry;

Support the importance of flexibility concerning submission of different elements of a project, with the option for each in their own right being submitted as a NSIP, whilst endorsing the proposed approach, which requires developers to ensure that an appropriate level of detail is included to enable the IPC and stakeholders to understand any likely associated implications;

Acknowledge that 2020 / 2025 is not the end of the journey in terms of energy infrastructure investment, with significant amounts required well beyond, and suggest to DECC that they include further emphasis of investment requirements from 2030 to 2050, including reference to the Renewable Energy Strategy and the Climate Change Committee First Progress Report.

 

January 2010