This is entry number 94, first published on 4 February 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 more of the hearings being held by Parliament into the six energy National Policy Statements.
A previous entry reported on the hearings held on 6 January. Today's entry covers the following two weeks of Wednesday meetings. Links to the transcripts and video recordings are provided at the end, but this blog is here so you don't have to plough through them!
The House of Lords has also announced a couple of debates into National Policy Statements. The first, into the Overarching Energy NPS, will be at 3.30 on Tuesday 23 February. The second, into the Ports NPS, will be at 2 p.m. on Thursday 4 March. The title of the first suggests that there may be more to come on the energy NPSs.
Energy and Climate Change Committee, 13 January 2010 a.m.
First session witnesses: Jayne Ashley and James Greenleaf (obviously destined to work in the environmental sector), Sustainable Development Commission (SDC).
The SDC position was as follows. The NPSs are too vague and should be locationally specific. Relying on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) will not meet emissions targets - buying carbon credits to offset emissions is not the same as reducing emissions.
The Appraisal of Sustainability (AoS) is flawed because it only compares the alternatives of having an NPS to not having one rather than alternative mixes of energy sources (i.e. renewables, nuclear and fossil fuels).
The Nuclear NPS could be challenged on its blanket determination that all ten sites for nuclear power stations have imperative reasons of overriding public interest (IROPI) in coming forward, sufficient to override the harm caused to the protected environmental sites in the vicinity.
Combined Heat and Power (CHP) - using waste heat from power stations to heat homes directly - is not given sufficient importance in the NPSs.
The consultation was flawed and the government should have used agencies with a track record of community consultation to help it (although I thought it did use, or at least endorse, Planning Aid).
Radioactive waste disposal - it is no good saying we will sort it out in the future when we can't be sure that we will. John Robertson MP suggested that because we would have to deal with it in the future, then we would do so - is that the ontological argument for nuclear waste disposal?
Second session witnesses: Fiona Howie, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Phil Michaels and Naomi Luhde-Thompson, Friends of the Earth (FoE), Simon Marsh, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Emmalene Gottwald, World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
FoE's main point was that the NPSs do not allow the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) to assess and use the carbon impact of a project in making its decision.
The NPSs did not give enough assistance to local authorities, who would have to write 'local impact reports' when projects came their way.
The statements on need were basically a free-for-all.
The consultation was inadequate - e.g. Hartlepool, where the local exhibition opened three days after the NPS was published - and should have been taking place through the months that the NPSs were being developed. The public debate on genetically modified crops was given as an example of a successful engagement that should be followed.
This group also did not like the AoS and its consideration of alternatives. It was not clear whether the AoS was meant to constutite Strategic Environmental Assessment, which is an EU requirement for new policies, like Environmental Impact Assessment is for projects.
The committee had a go at the witnesses. Julie Kirkbride MP said that they did not want consultation on onshore windfarms to be done properly because they wouldn't like its conclusions. John Robertson MP said that environmental groups were responsible for delaying energy projects that were necessary for people like his inner city constituents.
Energy and Climate Change Committee, 13 January 2010, p.m.
Witnesses: Simon Bullock, FoE; Ben Ayliffe and Jean McSorley, Greenpeace; Keith Allott, WWF, and Professor Andrew Blowers, Nuclear Consultation Group.
Greenpeace's main points were that the Nuclear NPS was ill-timed because there was so much policy still to be settled, the FoE point about the IPC should be allowed to consider emissions when deciding applications, and that it should also be able to consider radioactive waste.
Again need is overstated in the NPSs, the ETS is not enough to rely upon to reduce emissions, and interim emissions targets are needed before the main one in 2050. The IPC should report to the Committee on Climate Change annually on the carbon impact of the schemes it has consented. Power stations should conform to a uniform emissions performance standard.
FoE said that the Overarching Energy NPS envisaged 17GW of new non-renewable generation, but that according to figures they had obtained, that amount is already used up by schemes already consented and applied for. Arguably, therefore, the IPC should refuse all non-renewable applications.
John Robertson MP decided to save time by saying to the witnesses that they should just admit that they all hated nuclear power at any cost so there was no point in having a discussion. That didn't work, however.
Prof Blowers said that all the analysis of nuclear issues that the government was relying on was done by the pro-nuclear industry and so was inherently biased. The NPSs were 'tendentious, vague and poorly integrated'. The criteria for where to site nuclear power stations depending on their proximity to people had been manipulated so that the existing sites qualified.
All present agreed that the way the NPSs dealt with radioactive waste was wholly inadequate, and that paragraph 3.8.20 of the Nuclear NPS, the controversial one that says that the IPC should not consider radioactive waste, should be struck out.
Best joke: Prof Blowers was concerned about sea level rises affecting all the coastal sites for new nuclear power stations, but he said that the government wanted nuclear power stations 'come hell or high water', then, realising what he had said, added '- and it will be high water!'.
Energy and Climate Change Committee, 20 January 2010, a.m.
First session witnesses: Robert Asquith, New Earth Energy, Gaynor Hartnell, Renewable Energy Association, Gemma Grimes and Peter Madigan, British Wind Energy Association (BWEA).
This session was the turn of the wind energy lobby/industry. They were in general happy with the NPSs, although still thought that need could be expressed more clearly in them.
Paddy Tipping MP in the chair asked (and also asked this of successive witnesses) if the Overarching Energy NPS was just a restatement of existing policy and was a bit thin. In fact the government intends these NPSs to be a statement of existing policy rather than introducing new policy, and this was pointed out by the BWEA.
Surprisingly, you might think, the REA did not think that the IPC should prefer one technology over another (given that wind was likely to come out top). That is probably because there are already external targets for renewable energy outside the NPS.
The NPSs should not just refer to the 2050 Climate Change Act target (80% reduction in emissions) but interim targets such as in 2020.
There is not enough in the NPS on dealing with below-the-IPC-threshold projects (i.e. 50MW onshore and 100MW offshore), as they would constitute the vast majority of projects. The NPSs should be locationally specific.
Charles Hendry MP suggested that local communities be offered part ownership of onshore windfarms to make them more palatable. The witnesses thought that a good idea.
Second session witnesses: Nick Winser, National Grid and David Smith, Energy Networks Association.
Next, the pylon industry took the stand. They were in favour of the NPSs. It was good that they were not locationally specific.
Charles Hendry MP pointed out a discrepancy between the government's figures on future electricity generation from gas and National Grid's and Ofgem's figures (the industry regulator). The government thinks gas demand will decline, whereas the others think it will rise. This was not resolved.
Energy and Climate Change Committee, 20 January 2010, p.m. First session witnesses: Keith Parker and Simon James, Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) and Richard Waite and Bruce McKirdy Nuclear Decommissioning Agency (NDA).
The representatives of the nuclear power industry and the body responsible for power stations once they got switched off were in favour of the NPSs, although the statements on need could have been better expressed.
Long-term waste disposal was discussed at length. It was expected to be in place by 2040, and the likely UK site would be in Cumbria, as that was where communities had volunteered for it to be. I didn't know that it took up to 100 years for a nuclear reactor to cool down once it was switched off - think of the CHP that would provide!
These witnesses disagreed about the exclusion of Dungeness from the Nuclear NPS, the only site nominated by the industry that was not included. The reason for its exclusion was that it would be likely to damage the protected shingle beach there, but these witnesses thought the damage would be minimal.
Interestingly the witnesses disagreed with the environmental lobby's analysis of the AoS. They said that although it did consider the difference between having an NPS and not having one, it also considered different energy mixes. This seems to be a question of fact that might get resolved in the courts.
The last witness got the stand to himself: Professor Dieter Helm from Oxford University.
He tore into the NPSs. They were not only incoherent and sloppy, but they were written in bad English. Unfortunately he didn't give any examples of the latter, as I thought they read quite well.
He said that the current suite of government policies aimed at 30% of electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020 would never achieve it. The government had to think of the same sort of emergency shift as moving from a peacetime economy to a wartime one.
He thought that the government had not entertained the prospect of 'non-conventional gas' flooding the market for the next 30-50 years, which would change the market radically and mean the NPSs would have to be rewritten.
He did not like the unelected IPC approving projects or the government approving NPSs.
So those are what I see as the salient points from those two days of hearings. If you have any comments, please make them!
The transcribers had some trouble with some of the technical jargon - referring to 'place-shooting' instead of 'place-shaping' at one point, calling Wylfa nuclear power station Wilber, and IROPI became R.A.P. No doubt these will be corrected in the finalised transcripts.
Links to transcripts and video recordings:
13 January a.m. -transcript - video recording
13 January p.m. - transcript - video recording
20 January a.m. - transcript - video recording
20 January p.m. - transcript - video recording