915: Analysis of revised draft energy National Policy Statements
Today’s entry reports on the long-awaited publication of the suite of draft revised energy National Policy Statements. They were issued late on Monday 6 September 2021, the first day after parliament’s summer holidays.
There is to be a consultation on the five draft revised NPSs (the sixth, for nuclear power, will come later after a site assessment). The consultation document is here, and the deadline for responding is 29 November 2021.
I have read them so you don’t have to. My main highlights are:
- they are amendments to the current NPSs rather than complete rewrites, although some sections have been extensively changed;
- apart from coal and large-scale oil-fired electricity generation, which is not covered by the NPSs at all (and so EN-2 is renamed from fossil fuel electricity generation to natural gas electricity generation), all forms of energy infrastructure remain urgently needed without differentiation as to their types;
- in particular, unabated gas-fired power stations can still be brought forward (although if separate moves to drop the carbon capture readiness threshold transpire it would all at least have to be ‘decarbonisation ready’);
- EN-3 still covers biomass and offshore wind, additionally covers solar, tidal and pumped hydro projects and no longer covers onshore wind (unsurprisingly since it no longer comes under the Planning Act 2008);
- hydrogen and CO2 networks are not specifically covered by ‘daughter’ NPSs but are encouraged in EN-1, and even if they do not amount to NSIPs, and EN-1 has effect in relation to them;
- The revised NPSs will not have effect in relation to applications which were accepted before the new NPSs are designated. They (even these drafts) will however probably still be considered ‘important and relevant’ (EN-1 1.6.3);
- although how a project deals with carbon emissions is tightened (5.3.4), the decision on an application need not consider the project’s contribution to meeting climate change (5.3.7); and
- electricity demand is expected to double by 2050, low carbon electricity to quadruple, but overall energy consumption is targeted to reduce by about 30%.
Various changes that are happening are ignored in the main text but acknowledged in footnotes, suggesting the drafts have struggled to keep up eg:
- the proposed dropping of 300MW as a threshold for carbon capture readiness;
- the hydrogen business model; and
- the obligation to provide biodiversity net gain.
Furthermore on page 9 the consultation document says that EN-6, the nuclear power NPS, is not being amended as part of this review and it is not part of this consultation – despite the heading on every page of the document being ‘Reviewing Energy National Policy Statements EN-1 to EN-6’ – I therefore detect a last-minute removal of EN-6. EN-1 does say that a new NPS for nuclear energy generation infrastructure deployable after 2025 will be developed, starting with consulting on a siting approach (which is exactly where we were nearly four years ago). (EN-1 3.3.39-40)
The new drafts are accompanied by the usual Appraisals of Sustainability and Habitats Regulations Assessments.
Hydrogen and CO2 networks are not covered specifically but EN-1 says it has effect in relation to them, thus intending that decisions on such projects will be taken under s104 rather than s105 of the Planning Act 2008 (1.3.3). The same goes for projects brought into the regime via a s35 direction (1.3.5).
‘It should be recognised that some climate change is inevitable’ (1.7.4); and the use of unabated gas and crude oil fuels will still be needed (2.3.7) even beyond 2050 (2.3.8).
Part 2 on energy policy has been almost completely rewritten and touts the achievements of contracts for difference and capacity markets.
3.1.2 is amended significantly to deal with the Drax case and other challenges: ‘the weight which is attributed to considerations of need in any given case should be proportionate to the anticipated extent of a project’s actual contribution to satisfying the need for a particular type of infrastructure’ becomes ‘the SoS is not required to consider separately the specific contribution of any individual project to satisfying the need established in this NPS.’
3.2.3: New coal or large-scale oil-fired electricity generation… are not included. Otherwise, there is still a need for all types of energy infrastructure covered by the Planning Act 2008. The same specifically goes for electricity network, hydrogen and CO2 infrastructure not covered by the Planning Act 2008. (3.2.9)
What is said about the need for electricity networks in EN-1 is nearly site-specific (3.3.48). The coordination of networks for offshore wind is contemplated (3.3.51), taken as needed (3.3.55) and indeed preferred (3.3.57).
EN-1 newly says that it is not the role of the planning system to compare the costs of individual developments or technology types. (3.3.63)
Demand for gas will fall to 2025 but then stabilise until 2035. (3.4.3). There is an urgent need for all types of low carbon hydrogen infrastructure (3.4.12). Biomethane is also mentioned as a natural gas alternative (3.4.15). CO2 infrastructure is mentioned but does not in terms say it is urgently – or even critically – needed compared to hydrogen (3.5.1-9). This is an omission that should be rectified.
As before, chapter four deals with ‘assessment principles’. At 4.2.9 on habitats there is new text to address the late provision of compensation proposals etc. that has been complained about in recent offshore wind decision letters. There are new sections on marine considerations and environmental and biodiversity net gain (4.4, 4.5). Text on combined heat and power is strengthened: applications should be refused unless they show that CHP was explored. (4.7.8).
Oddly, there is a lot of detail on required specifications for CO2 capture plant in (4.8.3), transport and storage (4.8.6), but these are almost ignored in the ‘carbon capture readiness’ section (4.8.9). CO2 pipelines can be bigger than immediately needed though (4.8.6).
Chapter five deals with generic impacts, as before. There is a new section on carbon emissions – quite strict obligations on what you have to say about them and how you will minimise them, including a carbon assessment as part of the ES (5.3). But then: ‘The Secretary of State does not, therefore need to assess individual applications for planning consent against operational carbon emissions and their contribution to carbon budgets, net zero and our international climate commitments.’ (5.3.7)
On ecology, there is more stress on impacts on local wildlife sites (5.4.12); a compensation strategy is needed where there will be loss of ancient woodland (5.4.13). The inclusion of biodiversity enhancement proposals is encouraged (5.4.17). 5.4.22: maintenance of biodiversity measures should be for at least 30 years.
5.6.10 is new and says that relocation of infrastructure away from risk of coastal change is to be encouraged. There are more obligations to consider flood risk (5.8).
On heritage, setting is added to historical impacts (5.9.3) (another consequence of court cases a few years ago) and there is more on non-designated assets (5.9.6-8) and more on when harm to heritage is outweighed (5.9.24). On visual impact there is new text on light pollution (5.10.8)
On noise there is mention of ‘parallel tracking’ with environmental permits (5.12.8) and stricter decision criteria (5.12.11). In the socio-economic section, a contribution to net zero job transition is encouraged (5.13.3). A requirement for an employment and skills plan is encouraged (5.13.9).
There appears to be a weaker test of highways impacts (5.14.8); low-carbon construction materials are now encouraged (5.15.7).
Various new application documents are suggested. I think it isn’t very helpful to sprinkle these through the NPS. Examples:
- a document setting out how opportunities for environmental net gain have been considered (4.5.3);
- a Biodiversity Management Strategy (5.4.19); and
- a Geodiversity Management Strategy (5.4.21).
Apart from its title, little has changed except to bring it in line with EN-1, current legislation and to remove two specific impacts that were only relevant to coal-fired power stations (dust and residue management).
EN-3 covers biomass and waste combustion similarly to before although there is new text on not having an oversupply of Energy from Waste projects (2.10.5). There is more detail on specific pollutants in decision-making (2.13.7) but they are OK if compliant with permitting and best available techniques.
On offshore wind, a new strategic environmental assessment is coming later this year covering the 40GW commitment (2.22.2). Multipurpose interconnectors are mentioned, reflecting EN-1 (2.22.15). There is new text on dealing with other infrastructure in the continental shelf (2.22.20) and protected nature sites (2.22.21-24) and even the green belt is mentioned (for onshore cables) (2.22.25). There is more text on the onshore cable from 2.23.2-2.23.5.
2.24.2 acknowledges that as more windfarms come forward, more mitigation and compensation may be needed. There is interesting text on requiring assessment of ‘as built’ parameters, which will be less than any Rochdale envelope approach, so that windfarms do not appear worse than they actually are in terms of cumulative impacts with windfarms that come afterwards (2.29.2).
The new pumped hydro section deals with the following impacts: landscape and visual, noise and vibration, water quality and resources, biodiversity and recreation.
The new solar section deals with the following impacts: biodiversity and nature conservation, landscape, visual and residential amenity, glint and glare, cultural heritage, construction, including traffic and transport noise and vibration. It also declares that capacity should be calculated on an AC basis not DC, from designation of the NPS (2.48.7).
The new tidal stream energy section just deals with the following impacts: biodiversity and ecological conservation and other impacts.
EN-4 hasn’t changed much but it additionally briefly addresses hydrogen and CO2 pipelines in 1.6.4 and 1.6.5, with a promise of further guidance in 1.6.6. Gas emissions from gas storage is a new impact at 2.9.
EN-5 has a few new sections. The site selection section has been rewritten, there are new sections on land rights (2.3) onshore offshore assessment (2.5) and sulphur hexafluoride (2.14), a new declaration that overhead lines may be unacceptable in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (2.11.6) and the Holford Rules are supplemented with the Horlock Rules (2.11.11).
- Government with a capital G has been changed to government with a small g throughout. This must be heralding an era of small government;
- The plural of silo is silos not siloes (EN-1 2.3.7);
- EN-1 5.4.8 ‘habitat’s regulations’, ugh; and
- EN-3 2.16.6 ‘The Secretary of State should satisfy itself…’
So there is an initial run through of the five revised draft NPSs. No doubt other issues will come to the fore over time and they may be covered by future blog posts. The NPSs will now be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny as well as public consultation.
In other NPS news, the Secretary of State for Transport has decided not to review the Airports National Policy Statement, although will consider again whether to do so once the Jet Zero Strategy has been published. See this letter.