Alongside the publication of 'Powering Up Britain': Net Zero Growth and Energy Security Plans on Thursday 30 March, DESNZ also published a suite of revised draft Energy NPS for consultation.
They're of course critical documents; relevant DCO applications must be determined in accordance with the NPS and they remain a material consideration in the determination of applications made under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
The draft energy NPS comprise EN-1 to EN-5 (the NPS) and were last subject to consultation in Autumn 2021. They've now been updated to reflect consultee responses, with significant further changes to reflect the two core energy sector themes that have developed during this time: energy security and net zero. A further period of consultation continues until 25 May 2023.
In this first of our series of bulletins we look at the key changes made since the first revised draft energy NPS were published in 2021, with a focus on energy networks – electricity transmission, CCUS and hydrogen transport and storage networks, and gas distribution. Our summary focusses purely on the key changes since the draft energy NPS were last published in 2021.
- Electricity Networks Infrastructure (EN-5)
- A resilient electricity network is now placed at the heart of ensuring a secure and reliable energy supply across the UK. To that extent, whilst offshore wind generation is deemed development of critical national importance (CNP), the supporting onshore and offshore transmission infrastructure and related network reinforcements are given an equal footing such that they should be progressed as quickly as possible building on the more holistic network planning carried out under the auspices of the Offshore Transmission Network Review and Ofgem's Electricity Transmission Network Planning Review. Interestingly, there is no specific mention of other critical infrastructure – notably port upgrades - that could prove similarly essential to deliver the Government's offshore windfarm aspirations.
- The revised policy statement makes clear that siting is largely determined by factors beyond the choice of transmission infrastructure applicants, dictated as it is by the location of generating stations and other infrastructure requiring connection to the network such as interconnectors the location of which is determined by strategic commitments with neighbouring countries. How any network line moves between the initiating and terminating points is now expressly identified in the NPS as often not being via the most direct route, noting the need to account for engineering, environmental or community constraints in determining a feasible route.
- Criteria for good design is now expressly stated as being a factor which applicants must consider at an early stage when developing projects.
- There has been a further bolstering of the section of the NPS which deals with undergrounding. This is now stated as being appropriately considered where there would be harm to the visual amenity and natural beauty as well as the landscape character of relevant designations. Undergrounding is extended to subsea cabling where appropriate, but specific reference is afforded to the potential very disruptive effects of subsea cables on key interests as a factor to be appropriately considered by applicants.
- The NPS now expressly specifies that when determining applications with identified biodiversity impacts the Secretary of State should be satisfied that all feasible options for mitigation have been considered and evaluated appropriately.
- Special assessment principles are now expressly stated in respect of onshore-offshore transmission, including as to the necessary consideration of holistic network design principles, and for OTNR Early Opportunity projects, coordinated design work. The NPS now expressly given to the appropriate use of Section 35 directions for interconnector or 'bootstrap' projects which otherwise sit below NSIP thresholds, thereby recognising recent decisions by the Secretary of State under that statutory provision.
- CCUS Infrastructure (EN-1)
- The potential role of CCUS in meeting UK energy strategy goals is now fully underscored with an expressly stated ambition in the form of a 20-30 MtCO2 per year capture figure being given for CCUS by 2030. The work being undertaken to develop transport and storage business models, and the delivery of investor and supply chain roadmaps is now expressly referenced in the NPS.
- Power CCUS is noted as being reliant on the availability of infrastructure for the transportation and storage of CO2.
- The approval regime for offshore CCUS projects is now better explained.
- Hydrogen network infrastructure (EN-1)
- Demand for hydrogen is now recognised in the NPS as needing the infrastructure which supports it, including pipelines and storage. The reference in the Hydrogen Strategy to the critical role that hydrogen transport and storage infrastructure will need to play in connecting hydrogen producers with consumers is now reiterated in the draft NPS.
- The NPS references an expectation that applicants for transport and storage infrastructure for hydrogen will account for foreseeable future demand when considering the size and route of their investments, mirroring similar policy provided for CCUS transport and storage infrastructure. This removes a notable omission in the 2021 draft.
- reference is made to the government targeting a policy decision by end of 2023 on hydrogen blending into the current gas distribution networks. The decision shall take subject to the outcome of ongoing economic and safety assessments and "wider strategic considerations". Subject to necessary legislative and regulatory processes to enable blending, it is anticipated blending could then follow at a commercial scale, but not before 2025.
- Gas networks (EN-1 and EN-4)
- Energy security has, of course, rarely been out of the headlines over the past year or so due to international events and this policy theme is undoubtedly reflected in the changes concerning gas supply. The NPS now makes it clear that gas will continue to be needed as the UK transitions to net zero.
- Whilst the majority of new generating capacity needs to be low carbon, the NPS states that "new unabated natural gas generating capacity" will also be needed, with security of supply a "top priority" as the UK moves to decarbonise gas supply. In this latter regard, "all options" will be considered to achieve "the most climate impact at least cost, while maintaining a secure system".
- The Government will continue to work with the gas industry to seek views which will inform future policies on the gas system including its related transmission and distribution networks, with a focus on infrastructure and the evolution of markets throughout the transition.
- The bigger picture
The Government's Response to the recommendations of the Net Zero Review was published at the same time as the revised draft NPS. As set out in our previous bulletin (see here), the Review recognised the importance of energy networks expansion and the need for the delivery of emerging net zero technologies such as hydrogen and CCUS to be accelerated.
This influence can be seen directly in the revised draft NPS. In particular, the revised drafts address omissions identified previously by stakeholders in the CCUS and hydrogen economy in relation to policy addressing CCUS and hydrogen network infrastructure. Undoubtedly the revised draft NPS now further underscores the criticality of electricity transmission networks to delivering the promise of reliable energy from new power generation sources, including offshore wind.
The current consultation period runs until 25 May 2023. If you require any further advice on the draft NPS or would like assistance in preparing a consultation response, please contact our Planning & Infrastructure Consenting Team.