UK seeks energy security from a mix of national energy sources
Specific measures to support offshore wind include proposals to speed up permit granting, with the aim of reducing the application period from four years to one year. National policy statements for renewable energy infrastructure also need to be strengthened to reflect the importance of energy security and net zero and assessment requirements for habitat regulations need to be reviewed. In addition, strategic environmental compensation measures, including for projects already in the system, to compensate for environmental effects, will be introduced. The Secretary of State will also be given new powers to set shorter review deadlines.
Phillips said: “These new policy measures will be hugely beneficial for offshore wind and potentially other technologies. If it takes 12 months to review and determine an application for complex infrastructure, like nuclear, why does it take so long for solar, which is not complex at all? While the ambition to reduce consent periods to one year is a step in the right direction, a reduction to two years is perhaps more realistic.
The government also sees a role for onshore wind power generation, but has decided not to ‘bulk change to current planning regulations’ in England to support its development, despite recent reports that it was considering such intervention for revitalize the onshore wind sector. Instead, the government plans to “consult this year on the development of local partnerships for a limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for benefits including reduced energy bills.” Proposals to facilitate the repowering of existing onshore wind farms are under consideration.
Phillips said: “The exclusion of onshore wind planning reform and the failure to harness the contribution this technology could make is irrational in the context of the evidence available from reputable organizations including the National Commission of Infrastructure, the Committee on Climate Change and the National Infrastructure. Planning Association, which the BEIS select committee found compelling in its February report on draft national energy infrastructure policy statements.
Initiatives to support the growth of solar power capacity in Britain have also been outlined by the government, which has said it expects a fivefold increase in solar panel deployment by 2035 and earlier this week granted development permission for the Little Crow solar park project, only the second solar ‘nationally significant infrastructure project’ to receive development permission from the Cleve Hill solar park in May 2020.
The government has declared its intention to modify the planning laws “to reinforce the policy in favor of the development [of solar farms] on unprotected land” and that it supports the co-location of solar panels on properties used for other purposes, such as agriculture, onshore wind power generation or energy storage. Phillips said: “The continued political support for solar power is welcome, but the strategy has failed to live up to its billing in this regard. The support seems more qualified than before, in terms of developers having to offer compensation for virgin sites, but without indicating whether this compensation should be physical – for example, the release or improvement of land – or financial .
The government also pledged to “aggressively explore the renewable opportunities offered by our geography and geology, including tides and geothermal energy”, but did not provide further details on its plans in this regard.
Plans to increase hydrogen production to 10 GW by 2030 – double the previous target – have been outlined in the new strategy. The government announced it had taken out a £400million loan from London-based Johnson Matthey to support its research and development of sustainable and hydrogen technologies earlier this week.
Measures to increase energy efficiency, such as increased use of heat pumps, were also outlined in the strategy, which also contained proposals to strengthen electricity transmission networks and promote investment in energy storage technologies. A new “Future System Operator” must be created and tasked with overseeing Britain’s energy system and “integrating existing networks with emerging technologies such as hydrogen.”
With grid connection constraints being a common problem for generators to overcome, Phillips said: “The current practice of grid availability dictating where generating plants should be located is not ideal and incompatible with a development regime directed by a plan. The network and associated processes need to be revised to enable a strategic approach to the deployment of new plants, and the proposals in the strategy are encouraging in this regard.
The government also confirmed earlier this week that it commissioned a review of the geological science of hydraulic fracturing.