This is entry number 15 of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

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.

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. 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) 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).

Thus the category includes nuclear power stations, gas-fired power stations, coal-fired power stations, windfarms, hydroelectric schemes, waste incinerators, tidal energy projects 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, primarily if its adverse impact would outweigh the benefits it would bring.

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, 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, for 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 in the face of mounting pressure for more capacity.