Memorandum submitted by the Environment Agency (NPS 64)

 

 

Summary

 

The Environment Agency welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Energy and Climate Change Committee's inquiry into the proposals for National Policy Statements (NPSs) on Energy.

 

We welcome the potential contribution that NPSs could play towards meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets through emphasising the need for greater levels of low carbon energy generation including renewable, nuclear, demonstration projects for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Combined Heat and Power (CHP). We believe greater clarity is required on how a low carbon generation mix, and greater energy efficiency will be delivered in practice.

 

We support the nuclear NPS's approach of identification at the strategic level of the potential sites for nuclear power generation. This does not replace the need for detailed assessment of specific project proposals including Environmental Impact Assessments before any application is made.

 

We believe the Government and Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) must continue to show credible commitment in progressing the development of a geological disposal facility for higher-activity solid radioactive wastes, and advancing the clean up of the UK's past nuclear legacy.

 

We recommend that the NPSs give clearer guidance on the information required in applications for the transport of carbon dioxide (CO2) for the implementation of CCS.

 

We emphasise the need for applicants to work with us at pre-application stage so that the IPC's development consent regime and our regulatory regimes move forward together. We would welcome the wording on 'parallel tracking' being strengthened.

 

We recommend further development of the Appraisal of Sustainability (AoS) so that the NPSs can be shown to contribute to delivering Government's objectives for sustainable development.

 

1.0 Introduction

 

1.1 The Environment Agency is a statutory consultee for NPSs and for all applications that will be made to the IPC for Development Consent Orders.

 

1.2 We are the environmental regulator for many energy related operations and will be issuing environmental permits and other consents for many of the projects seeking IPC consent.

 

1.3 We are a statutory consultee for the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) that will accompany most applications.

 

1.3 We welcome the advice the draft NPSs give the IPC on how to assess applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) and the advice they give applicants on the need for pre-application consultation with us.

 

2.0 CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE

 

2.1 We are pleased that the NPSs are based on recent energy policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We are concerned however that there is a strong reliance on market forces and limited Government incentives to deliver a low carbon generation mix.

 

2.2 We believe that without a strategic vision of the future energy mix from the Government there is a danger that the NPSs, in their current form would require the IPC to approve suitable proposals if they are put forward without consideration of the potential emissions and their place in the overall energy mix. This risks a scenario where emissions are not sufficiently lowered for the Government to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

 

2.3 We believe the Government should commit to the target of almost fully decarbonising electricity generation by 2030 as recommended by the Committee on Climate Change. To meet this goal, EN1 would need to promote the rapid deployment of renewable energy generation, new nuclear capacity and fossil fuelled power stations that all contain carbon capture elements from the outset, and full CCS by the early 2020s in the case of coal and by 2030 in the case of gas. To improve the efficiency with which we utilise energy EN1 should also promote combined heat and power and heat networks.

 

2.4 We believe the NPSs should signal that energy efficiency is the Government's first priority for energy policy so that demand is reduced wherever possible. The transition towards a low carbon economy may increase electricity demand in some areas such as the move towards electric vehicles and domestic heating from electricity rather than gas.

 

3.0 EN1 OVERARCHING ENERGY NPS

 

3.1 We are concerned that there is no mention of pipelines for CO2 that would be necessary for power stations required to have CCS. We recommend that more should be said on the policy for providing the pipeline network that will be necessary to implement CCS effectively.

 

3.2 We agree that EN1 addresses the important generic environmental impacts including flood risk, coastal change, climate change adaptation, biodiversity, water and waste management.

 

3.3 We believe that the effectiveness of EN1 will rely on good quality pre-application consultation by applicants together with Environmental Statements that properly assess environmental issues such as climate change adaptation, alternative options, cumulative effects and the requirements of environmental Directives including the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

 

3.4 There are some parts of EN1 that we believe need to be strengthened. For example, there is no generic assessment guidance for impacts on fish in EN1 although three of the technology specific NPS (EN3, EN4 and EN6) do make some reference to impacts on fish. EN2, which should cover impacts due to cooling water intake and discharge, does not mention fish either and should do so.

 

3.5 Other areas where we believe the NPS could be improved include evaluating physical modifications of water bodies as required by the Water Framework Directive, the interpretation of climate change projections, biodiversity and waste management.

 

3.6 This NPS and the associated NPS will be applicable to England and Wales. It needs significant revision to include references to technical standards and practice specific to Wales.

 

4.0 EN2 - 5 NON NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGIES

 

4.1 EN2 Fossil Fuel Generation

 

4.1.1 We recommend the NPS should provide a strategic context for CO2 pipelines as an essential part of the CCS chain, including the protection of corridors where appropriate. It should also indicate when CCS is likely to be required for gas powered generation.

 

4.1.2 We believe that the NPS should advise the IPC on how to assess the impacts of cooling water on fisheries. This should include reference to the relevant Directives such as the fresh water fish and shellfish Directives.

 

4.1.3 Where water resources are limited applicants may need to carry out water cycle studies to give an overview of water issues and may need to consider new technologies such as the use of treated waste water for cooling.

 

4.2 EN3 Renewable Energy

 

4.2.1 We believe that more needs to be said on why tide and wave power schemes are not included in EN3. We recommend the NPS says whether, and when, schemes of more than 100MW are expected to come forward.

 

4.2.2 We note that biomass and waste fuelled power generation are categorised as renewable. The NPS should identify the need to ensure that fuels are from sustainable sources and that waste is not diverted from re-use or recycling, where those are feasible options.

 

4.2.3 We expect a considerable number of large biomass power plants to come to the IPC in the future. These plants will mostly use imported woodchip from countries such as Canada, the USA, Brazil and Indonesia. We recommend that the NPS recognises this and the environmental risks it poses if the material is not taken from sustainable sources in these countries.

 

4.2.4 The draft NPS currently advises that the sustainability reporting requirement under the Renewables Obligation is an adequate safeguard against unsustainable biomass to justify no IPC involvement in this issue. In reality, this is not the case. The reporting requirement includes insufficient detail to determine the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, does not set a minimum standard and is essentially voluntary in nature as generators may report that the fuel origin is unknown. We therefore strongly recommend that the IPC requires evidence from developers that demonstrates their plant will minimise lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and will only source biomass that is independently certified as sustainable through schemes such as the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. The Environment Agency has developed a lifecycle greenhouse gas calculator (the Biomass Environmental Assessment Tool - BEAT) that is freely available and that operators can use in support of this goal.

 

4.3 EN4 Gas Supply Infrastructure and Oil and Gas Pipelines

 

4.3.1 As with EN1 and EN2, we recommend that EN4 explains how applicants will obtain approval for CO2 pipelines.

 

4.3.2 We support the requirement in the NPS to co-operate with us on arrangements for discharge permits and abstraction licences. Brine disposal may be subject to environmental limits including the Directives on bathing water, shellfish and habitats.

 

4.3.3 We prefer pipelines at installations to be above ground for easy maintenance to reduce the risk of pollution. Where pipelines have to cross flood defences applicants should discuss this with us as part of pre-application consultation.

 

4.4 EN5 Electricity Networks

 

4.4.1 We recommend that this NPS should more strongly incorporate requirements that the location of infrastructure avoids the adverse impacts of climate change wherever possible and increases their resilience so that they operate in all predictable conditions including flooding.

 

5.0 EN6 NUCLEAR POWER GENERATION

 

5.1 We welcome the clarification of the relationship between the planning regime and the role of the nuclear regulators.

 

5.2 We support the advice to the IPC that relevant licensing and permitting regimes will be properly applied and enforced, and that it should not delay a decision on granting development consent until completion of the licensing or permitting process.

 

5.3 We confirm that we will work with the IPC to ensure that their development consent process and the nuclear regulatory processes for which we are responsible work together effectively and efficiently.

 

5.4 We believe at the strategic level, potential impacts on aquatic habitats, water quality, flood risk and coastal processes have been identified. In particular these include impacts from cooling water abstractions and discharges, along with construction of flood and coastal defences.

 

5.5 We participated in the Strategic Site Assessment that considered the potential sites for new nuclear power stations. We are already engaging with developers on their proposals and providing them with pre-application advice. We are recovering our costs for this work from developers.

 

5.6 We believe that EN6 is consistent with the Government's 2008 Nuclear White Paper in identifying the need for a Geological Disposal Facility for spent fuel and intermediate level radioactive waste from new nuclear power stations. A Geological Disposal Facility will underpin the programme for new nuclear power generation and we believe it is essential that Government establishes milestones that demonstrate commitment and continued progress to secure it.

 

6.0 ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATION

 

6.1 The Government has already proposed new roles for us such as regulating CCS and proposes to deliver these by changing the Environmental Permitting Regulations.

 

6.2 We recommend applicants should contact us early in the pre-application process so that the necessary arrangements can be put in place, for example through a parallel track approach. This will help to ensure permit applications can be dealt with early enough especially where they are also subject to appraisal under environmental Directives.

 

6.3 EN1 encourages 'parallel tracking' of applications for development consent but stops short of indicating that this will be necessary if the IPC is to be satisfied to the extent stipulated in the NPS before it grants development consent. We would welcome the requirement for 'parallel tracking' being strengthened so we will be in a position to give meaningful advice to the IPC when it considers an application for a Development Consent Order. For example if planning and environmental permitting requirements are parallel tracked in the nuclear NPS this will help us to advise the IPC on whether we consider we would be able to issue the relevant licences, authorisations and permits that are required by a new nuclear power station.

 

7.0 APPRAISALS OF SUSTAINABILITY

 

7.1 We welcome the Appraisals of Sustainability (AoS) which are valuable in considering the potential significant environmental, social and economic effects of developing new nationally significant energy infrastructure. We have suggested where we believe improvements can be made.

 

7.2 We are pleased to see that all the AoSs incorporate an assessment in accordance with the requirements of Sustainable Environment Assessment (SEA) Directive 2001/42/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment.

 

7.3 AoS EN1 - 5 Overarching and non-nuclear NPSs

 

7.3.1 We found a lack of depth of analysis of potential effects on the AoS objectives. We recommend more detail on potential impacts is made available and how this analysis has informed the development of the NPS. We would also like to see more evidence of how cumulative impacts have been assessed, what the outcomes are and which potential mitigation measures have been identified.

 

7.3.2 We are concerned that the assessment should find 'no overall' or an 'uncertain' effect on many of the AoS objectives and view as insufficient the reason given, relating to no additional requirements being set out above the existing planning system. We recommend that clear evidence of how conclusions were reached is made available.

 

7.3.3 We are concerned about the definition of 'alternatives' used in the AoS and that these should relate to different outcomes on the ground rather than different kinds of NPS. We recommend the alternatives are revisited and refined following advice from the Department of Communities and Local Government.

 

7.3.4 We are pleased to see the summary of responses DECC received to the AoS scoping report consultation and actions taken as a result. However, this should have further explained exactly how the AoS process has been adjusted or draft NPS amended and why. We recommend that evidence of how the AoS informed the development of the NPS is more clearly presented.

 

7.3.5 We recommend that AoS monitoring during NPS implementation should focus on all identified significant environmental effects, as required by the SEA Directive, rather than just those which may give rise to irreversible damage. Over time the significance of these effects may change and so monitoring of all effects is vital.

 

7.3.6 We would like to see the impacts of abstraction and discharge of cooling water on fish and fisheries assessed as there is no evidence this was included within the AoS. We recommend that the latest best practice methodologies for abstracting and discharging in the water environment are considered within EN1 and that the role and requirements of the WFD are explained more clearly.

 

7.4 AoS EN6 Nuclear power

 

7.4.1 We are concerned that in circumstances where the AoS has identified potential negative effects there needs to be sufficient evidence to demonstrate appropriately how those effects will be addressed in relation to the AoS objectives set out under the various sustainable development themes.

 

7.4.2 Specifically more evidence needs to be provided to demonstrate how the assessment conclusions have been reached both with regard to effects on biodiversity, water quality and resources, particularly as a result of cooling water discharge and abstraction, and also with regard to cumulative impacts.

 

7.4.3 In some circumstances realistic mitigation or compensation options have not been identified by the AoS. The AoS appears to have a reliance on Environment Agency consenting regimes to ensure mitigation of negative effects are achieved. These regimes cannot in themselves fully mitigate all negative effects and therefore compensation measures may need to be examined in the application stage.

 

7.4.4 We consider that as in relation to site specific assessment, the AoS should present more information with regard to both the significance of effects and reasonable mitigation or compensation options. This should ensure greater certainty for developers when putting forward applications for new nuclear power stations.

 

January 2010