UK: Focus On Electricity Generation

Last Updated: 27 October 2009
Article by Angus Walker

The Planning Act 2008 introduces a new regime for authorising sixteen types of nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP). This entry focuses on one of these – electricity generation. The new regime is quite different from the existing one and will become compulsory for all new and expanded power stations and renewable generation over a certain size from 1 March 2010.

There is an incentive for additional electricity generation in the next decade for two reasons. First, the UK faces a shortfall of energy supply compared with expected demand as old power stations are brought out of service. New nuclear power stations, to a lesser extent gas-fired power stations, and if 'clean coal' technology can be developed in time, coal-fired power stations, are to deal with this issue.

Secondly, the country is under an EU obligation to produce 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. At 2008 this figure stood at a measly 2.25%. Note that the target is for energy as a whole, not just electricity (which is what almost all renewable energy sources produce), so a consequently higher proportion of electricity must be produced from renewable sources if the overall target is to be met. The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is aiming for 30% in its recently published renewable energy strategy. An explosion in onshore and offshore windfarms, and if the technology can be developed in time, tidal projects, are the principal ways in which this issue will be dealt with.

So-called 'generating stations' are the type of NSIP that will include the greatest variety of individual projects – indeed, this single category will have no fewer than three of the twelve National Policy Statements (NPSs), which will set out government policy on needed infrastructure, devoted to it.

A generating station can be anything that generates electricity and will fall within the new regime if it is capable of generating more than 50 megawatts (or if it is offshore, more than 100 megawatts). This is the same threshold as the regime that the Planning Act replaces (section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989) for onshore projects, but a much higher threshold for offshore projects (which is currently only one megawatt). An expansion of an existing station is over the threshold if the expanded station will be over 50 (or 100) megawatts (which may cause problems – see earlier blog entry). Note that it is its capability that matters - not what it is planned to produce - so, for example windfarms will be measured against their capacity even if they produce considerably less electricity most of the time.

The generating station category therefore includes nuclear power stations, gas-fired power stations, coal-fired power stations, windfarms, hydroelectric schemes, waste incinerators, tidal energy projects, wave energy schemes and solar arrays. Applications made after 1 March 2010 will be measured against the text of the corresponding NPS, and will only be allowed if they are in accordance with it. The reverse is not true, however – that if they are in accordance with the NPS they will necessarily be approved – because the Planning Act allows an application in accordance with an NPS to be refused in certain cases. The primary possible reason for refusal is if the adverse impact of the proposal would outweigh the benefits it would bring. This will be up to the new Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) to decide.

National policy on nuclear energy will be contained in a Nuclear Power NPS, on coal and gas-fired power stations in a Fossil Fuels NPS, and on energy from waste, wind, wave, tidal, hydroelectric and solar schemes in a Renewable Energy NPS. These are all due to be issued for consultation in the autumn of this year. This blog will of course let you know as soon as that happens.

To a much greater extent than rail or harbour promoters, the promoters of energy projects will have to adopt a new mindset when it comes to preparing and making applications. This is because the new regime is loosely based on the existing regimes for transport and port projects and is quite different from the Electricity Act regime. A lot more work must be done – and recorded as having been done – before an application can be submitted; the order granting consent can (and should) include a lot more; and the consideration of the application and objections is different.

Electricity generation projects will possibly be the prime test of the new system given the mounting pressure for more capacity. Please get in touch if you want to know more.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Angus Walker
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