This is entry number 112, first published on 16 March 2010, of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

Today's entry reports on further debates in Parliament on the energy National Policy Statement.

Four previous blog entries (here, here, here and here) have reported on the ten sessions of the Energy and Climate Change Committee's examination of the six energy National Policy Statements (NPSs) and the first debate in the House of Lords Grand Committee on 23 February. Today I summarise the salient points I took from the other two House of Lords debates, and also mention the motions that the Conservatives have tabled for consideration by the House as a whole. Links to the transcripts and video recordings are at the end.

Incidentally from a comment from Lord Reay I have found a fascinating website that shows the actual real time split of electricity generation by type of 'fuel'. The website is here and you should click 'Hide All' and then 'Generation by Fuel Type (table)' in the left-hand frame. Wind is currently at a paltry 0.9%.

House of Lords Grand Committee debate on EN-6, 9 March 2010

The second House of Lords debate on the energy NPSs considered the Nuclear Power Generation NPS, EN-6 (mnemonic: the nuclear symbol has six sections). There was a fairly full debate lasting nearly four hours.

In opening for the Government, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath said that there had been over 3000 responses to the consultation on the energy NPSs (up from 'over 1000' two weeks before the deadline) and 2000 of these were on the Nuclear NPS.

Lord Jenkin for the Tories said that Labour was in favour of nuclear power too late, and there was something of a debate about how positive the Tories had been in the 1990s. His argument seemed to be directed at re-including Dungeness in the list of approved sites: of the 10 on the list, he thought that they would not come at once, the Cumbrian sites of Braystones and Kirksanton were unlikely because their owner RWE had withdrawn its grid connection application and there was no developer for Heysham and Hartlepool. National Grid estimated that only 10.2 gigawatts of nuclear power would be online by 2025, compared with the government aspiration of 25GW. He suggested that a nuclear power station at Dungeness would protect the highly-regarded shingle coastline from erosion.

Lord Chorley spoke against the three Cumbrian sites given their proximity to the Lake District National Park.

Apparently the new Oldbury power station will not use river water to cool itself but have cooling towers that could be up to 200 metres high. Interesting because of the visual element and also the deduction that nuclear power stations do not need to be by the sea.

Lord Broers said that plans to dispose of high level radioactive waste by 2075 were too slow, and that we should learn from the Chinese, who build nuclear power stations in 6.3 years.

Baroness Young, former Chair of the Environment Agency, urged that appropriate assessment (of effects on protected environmental sites) take place at the project stage as well as the NPS stage. She waxed lyrical about the Dungeness shingle beach - apparently medicinal leeches live there. There was some banter about its 'spirituality'.

Lord O'Neill spent a while talking about the Scottish situation. Although the Planning Act does not cover Scottish energy projects, the NPS is still a material consideration for decision-making there. He approved of the IPC as being non-political.

Lord Dixon-Smith said he had been in discussion with Sir Mike Pitt, Chair of the IPC, who had told him that the Tory proposals for infrastructure planning were workable.

Lord Turnbull gave a financial exposition of nuclear compared with wind power, wind being more than twice as expensive per gigawatt. He said that subsidised microgeneration (e.g. household solar panels and turbines) favoured the rich as others would be paying the subsidy.

Lord Reay added that wind infrastructure only lasted a third to a half as long as nuclear power (making it four to six times more expensive, presumably).

Lord Teverson said that the Lib Dems were against the IPC and nuclear power, and suggested that the IPC could not refuse applications for power stations at the 10 nominated sites.

Ofgem, the electricity and gas regulator, has said that there will be a power crisis by 2017 (a 'sweaty-palm moment'). In reply, Lord Hunt said that their job was not to assess adequacy of supply. He confirmed that appropriate ssessment would be required at the project stage and the NPS would be clarified on that point. He used a fair amount of jargon, the only one he didn't explain being 'UKCS', the UK Continental Shelf in terms of gas reserves.

House of Lords Grand Committee debate on EN-2, 3, 4 and 5, 11 March 2010

The final debate considered the four other NPSs - ENs 2 to 5. These were considered together, although the motion to consider EN-2 was the official subject of the debate.

Lord Hunt, for the government once again, started by saying that if a debate on the floor of the House was called for but there wasn't time for it because of the election, it would be held at the start of the new Parliament (assuming Labour won, of course). That is interesting because the Secretary of State has laid down 6 May as the end of Parliamentary scrutiny, which would have to be revised and I am not sure that the Planning Act allows that. Lord Hunt suggested that if scrutiny took place after the deadline, it would have been extended 'by implication', which would make the deadline meaningless.

Lord Jenkin for the Tories was disappointed at that. He said he would table motions about the NPSs on Monday 15 March and indeed he duly did. The three motions are as follows:

Lord Jenkin of Roding to move to resolve that the “Conclusion on need” section in Part 3.1 of the Draft Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy (EN-1) should be amended so that the case for all forms of sustainable and low carbon energy should be strengthened from “significant” to “being of critical importance” to delivering the United Kingdom’s energy policy goals of secure and affordable energy supplies and mitigating climate change.

Lord Jenkin of Roding to move to resolve that the Draft Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy (EN-1) should be amended to spell out specifically the Government’s environmental targets to mitigate climate change.

Lord Jenkin of Roding to move to resolve that the Draft National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation (EN-6) should be amended to include in Part 5 the Dungeness site as suitable for nuclear development as it is premature at this stage to exclude Dungeness as a potential site for such development.

EN-2 is the Fossil Fuel NPS (mnemonic - think CO *2*). EN-3 is the Renewables NPS (mnemonic - a wind turbine usually has three blades) EN-4 is the Gas and Oil Infrastructure NPS (mnemonic - 'pipe' has four letters) EN-5 is the Electricity Network NPS (mnemonic - 'pylon' has five letters)

Lord Hunt said that EN-2 does not cover oil-fired power stations, EN-3 does not cover hydroelectric, tidal or wave projects, and EN-4 does not cover CO2 pipelines, but these will be amended if above-threshold projects become likely.

Lord Crickhowell went into great detail about the safety of LNG (liquefied natural gas) and gas storage (EN-4). He said paragraph 2.5.1 was 'extraordinarily misleading'. He gave chapter and verse on the inadequate risk assessment of the now operational terminal at Milford Haven in south west Wales.

Baroness Young said that carbon capture and storage (CCS) was more of a religion than a technology to date, and contrasted this with the omission of wave and tidal energy from EN-3, whose technology had also not been developed yet.

Lord Berkeley spoke about the transport infrastructure needed to deliver the energy infrastructure, and that it should be by rail and water rather than road. For example, Oldbury will need to be raised to avoid flooding (actually EN-6, but never mind) and this would need 10 million tonnes of earth.

Lord Jenkin said that he had visited BP's research establishment and been convinced that CCS was well established. It had a working facility in Algeria, although it had abandoned a proposal at Peterhead in Scotland. He said that the emphasis on offshore rather than onshore storage was misplaced, and that 'carbon capture readiness' (CCR) would be very difficult to demonstrate - indeed BP had told him that it was an 'unreal' concept. He said that all the environmental energy schemes would have an increasing impact on energy bills - £79 in 2008 rising to up to £426 in 2020.

Lord Reay admired planning inspectors refusing onshore wind projects in the face of well-resourced promoters. He suggested that the Scottish rule of wind turbines being at least 2km from any dwelling should be adopted (although his main complaint seemed to be placing them in areas of outstanding natural beauty).

Lord Willoughby de Broke said that to meet the UK's wind energy requirements would need 2.5 to 3 wind turbines to be constructed every day (although this seemed to assume that all of the EU renewable energy target was to be met by wind energy). He mentioned that John Saunders, Chief Executive of the IPC, had had several energy shareholdings and wondered if he had given them up.

Lord Dixon-Smith said that by 2050 he thought the main renewable energy form would be one not even mentioned so far: concentrated solar power.

The general feeling of many present was that wind energy was too expensive and too intermittent. There was also a suggestion that there is less wind in cold weather, just when you need it.

Lord Teverson raised the point previously raised about waste projects that onshore wind farm applications might be made larger to get them above the 50MW threshold so that they would be IPC projects. He also asked that the carbon cost of transporting biomass materials be considered.

Baroness Wilcox summed up for the Conservatives by saying that the government had ignored most of their proposals, on the IPC, undersea cables, gas supply minima, and smart grids. She asked if local factors would weigh more heavily as successive projects were considered by the IPC (and so the need was presumably less each time).

Lord Hunt wound up for the government. He said that the IPC would decide on whether a transport mode was 'cost-effective'. The NPSs would be amended to consider transport impacts during construction. He confirmed that 10,000 wind turbines were needed to meet the wind energy target.

He said that a 'road map' (shouldn't they use a less carbon-intensive metaphor?) of energy needs to 2050 would be produced 'fairly soon'. On CCR he said the test would be: no foreseeable barriers to having space for the infrastructure, a method of transporting it and somewhere to store it. He couldn't answer what would make CCS 'cost-effective'. In answer to Lord Crickhowell he agreed that port safety was paramount. Finally he said that the IPC Chief Executive was deciding whether to sell his shares or put them in a blind trust.

So that's the end of committee debate on the seven draft NPSs so far. Given that the Tories have tabled three motions on them, there should be a debate on the floor of the House of Lords in due course. Whether there will be a debate in the Commons will depend on the Transport Select Committees report (due tomorrow) and the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee's report (due by 26 March).

Grand Committee 9 March - transcript - video recording Grand Committee 11 March - transcript - video recording