UK: Planning Act Blog 204: Lords Still Unhappy with Energy National Policy Statements

Last Updated: 14 January 2011
Article by Angus Walker

This is entry number 204, first published on 13 January 2011, of a blog on the Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and authorisation regime. Click here for a link to the whole blog. If you would like to be notified when the blog is updated, with links sent by email, click here.

Today's entry reports on Tuesday's debate on revised energy National Policy Statements in the House of Lords.

On Tuesday, the House of Lords debated the revised drafts of the first five energy National Policy Statements (NPSs), issued in October 2010. For the titles and text of the five NPSs, go to the blog links page. Their Lordships will debate the sixth, on nuclear power, today. The Hansard report of the debate is here (starting on page 59). Here are what I see as the salient points, so you don't have to read it all.

The Minister, Lord Marland, opened the debate. He hinted that the Renewable Energy NPS would change again since it will be revised to take into account new guidance on noise from wind turbines. The Minister later refused to be drawn on whether further revisions would get further consultation (I suspect not), something which the Localism Bill makes clear is not always necessary.

Lord Giddens said that the government wants 30% of electricity to be generated from renewables by 2030 - it is actually 2020, to meet the EU target mentioned in the previous blog entry. If this seems ambitious, Spain generated 35% of its electricity from renewables in 2010, wind generating 43% on 9 December.

Lord Teverson made an interesting point that peak demand was twice average demand, which suggested that off-peak electricity was too expensive (a 'market failure').

He suggested that CO2 should be classed as a pollutant as it is by the Environmental Protection Agency in the US, but this was opposed by Lord Oxburgh who said that life on earth would not have been possible without CO2 in the atmosphere.

Lord Teverson also welcomed the test of sustainability on biomass, despite Lord Marland having said that they had decided not to have such a test, relying instead on the Renewables Obligation.

The Bishop of Liverpool, one of two bishops speaking, was worried that the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) would authorise a host of power stations before it was abolished. He needn't worry - if it is allowed to, it will only authorise one, or possibly two, energy from waste plants.

He commended China as a leader of clean energy (China seems to be simultaneously leading on renewables and being denigrated for building CO2-emitting power stations every five minutes), noting that it was aiming to generate 15% of its energy from renewables by 2020 (perhaps not aware that the UK has the very same target).

Lord Jenkin asked about conflicts between offshore oil and gas and offshore wind, prompted by 'Oil and Gas UK', i.e. whether the IPC would consent offshore wind farms where there were already oil and gas exploration rights. The Minister did not answer this, other than to rely on market forces.

Lord Judd quoted from a briefing by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which I have been kindly provided with. In fact it can be viewed online here. He noted that RWE have carried out some pre-application consultation on the proposed Triton Knoll offshore wind farm, but all the proposed sites for the onshore substation that will connect to it are over 40km away from suitable National Grid power lines. The briefing says that the power line may not be considered at all by the IPC, but actually it would have to be, as it would be a nationally significant infrastructure project in its own right. Perhaps the point is that the knock-on effect of the power line should be considered when deciding where to build the substation.

Also on power lines, Lord Judd and others deplored the perceived weakening in the application of the 1959 'Holford rules' that are used in deciding where to site power lines. It certainly looks as though they have been - the original draft of EN-5 says "the IPC should recognise that, while they have been reviewed and supplemented, they still form the basis for the approach to routeing new overhead lines", whereas the revised draft says "the IPC should bear them and any updates in mind as they examine applications for overhead lines". In response, Lord Marland said that the government was 'hardening' the rules, but then said that they should be borne in mind for the reason of cost.

Lord Reay and others mentioned shale gas, being extracted in the US and bringing the world gas price down, and that it should be taken into account. He also decried the cost of offshore wind power and reiterated his anti-climate change views, saying that the Met Office should not be government funded due to its unreliability. Lord Marland said that the only country in the world with a privatised Met Office was Malta. I will remember that for the next pub quiz.

Lord Crickhowell's previous comments about liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports and safety at ports had given rise to changes to EN-4, but he still wasn't happy about the drafting, suggesting that port operators would waive safety requirements in their eagerness to get the business. Lord Marland said he would be happy to discuss the point further.

The Bishop of Chester referred to his previous incarnation as a chemist - presumably he was not speaking literally. He queried the feasiblity of carbon capture and storage (CCS). That was swiftly rebutted by Lord Oxburgh, honorary president of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (of course there had to be such a thing). He said that the Chinese had successfully applied CCS to a 100MW power station in Beijing and were now tackling a 300MW one further south. His concern was more on the lead time to get the infrastructure of pipelines that would be needed in place.

In reply, Lord Marland said that he was meeting Shell, National Grid and Iberdrola on 19 February about what they could achieve with the budget allocated for the CCS competition, and he wanted binding agreements in place by October.

Baroness Smith mentioned the Localism Bill. She asked about the power of the government to decide that a revised draft had not changed sufficiently significantly as to warrant further public consultation and Parliamentary scrutiny (i.e. that this gave too much discretion to the government). She asked if the Lords could have an advisory role in ratifying NPSs, since they were not mentioned in the relevant clause. In reply Lord Marland said that there would be a 21 day period for 'people' to register amendments, and then a vote. He did not seem to take the point that the vote would only be in the Commons (nor that it need not take place at all).

So those were their Lordships' views, where there were plenty of concerns still expressed about the revised NPSs. If the same pattern is followed as with the previous drafts, there will be today's Grand Committee debate on the Nuclear Power NPS, and then a debate on the floor of the House on all of them. There will definitely be further drafts, but these are unlikely to be subject to a further round of consultation.

Previous entry 203: analysis of urgency of need for energy in the UK

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