The National Policy Statement on Renewable Energy Infrastructure (the Renewables NPS) is intended to provide guidance to developers seeking consent under the Planning Act 2008 to construct renewable energy infrastructure. In light of Government policies pointing to renewable energy as a key element in achieving targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 and 80% by 2050, the Renewables NPS will play an important role in guiding the private sector's decisions regarding the development of, and investments in, new renewable energy infrastructure.

The draft Renewables NPS was published by the Labour Government in November 2009 and revised by the Coalition Government in October 2010. The October 2010 revision related more to structure than substance. Repetition of matters dealt with in the Overarching Energy NPS was removed with the intention that the revised Renewables NPS be read alongside the Overarching Energy NPS. The Government's justification that there is significant need for new renewable electricity infrastructure was moved into the Overarching Energy NPS.

The October 2010 revisions also included amendments to take account of the decision to grandfather support for biomass under the Renewables Obligation and DECC's consultation on the introduction of sustainability criteria for biomass and bioliquids. New text was included explaining the circumstances in which Green Belt provisions might be applicable when applications for offshore wind projects are being considered, and a new section on the noise and vibration impacts of biomass/waste projects was added to reflect the findings of the Appraisal of Sustainability for the revised Renewables NPS.

The latest version of the Renewables NPS, laid before Parliament for approval in June 2011, maintains the structure of the October 2010 revision with some additional clarification and finessing. The approval version of the Renewables NPS clarifies that biomass and bioliquid sustainability criteria will need to be met irrespective of whether Renewables Obligaton Certificates (ROCs) are being claimed. Biomass and energy from waste generating stations can be configured as combined heat and power (CHP) plants and as such applications should demonstrate that CHP is included, or that the opportunities for a CHP configuration have been explored. Biomass stations with a capacity of 300 MW or more should also be carbon capture ready (CCR) and/or be equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The requirement for "appropriate distances" between onshore wind turbines applies to all sensitive receptors, not only residential properties. A new section has been included on the odour, insect and vermin infestation impacts of biomass/waste projects in response to concerns raised by Defra.

As with the other NPSs, references to the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) will be taken to be references to the Major Infrastructure Planning Unit (MIPU) or the Secretary of State after the Localism Bill has been enacted and comes into force.  

Scope

The most significant element of the approval version of the Renewables NPS remains what it does not cover. The Renewables NPS only covers:

  • energy from biomass and/or waste (greater than 50 MW);
  • offshore wind (greater than 100 MW); and
  • onshore wind (greater than 50 MW).

This reflects the Government's view of the technologies it believes are viable to be rolled out in the UK as part of the Renewable Energy Strategy, with the exception of wave and tidal energy projects. The Government expects that the IPC/MIPU may receive applications for tidal power schemes in the future and will consider the need to revise the Renewables NPS or introduce a separate NPS.

Similarly, when it appears that other renewable technologies (such as solar) will be economically and technically viable, at or in excess of the 50 MW threshold, the Government will consider further revisions to the Renewables NPS or introducing new NPSs.

The Renewables NPS is only concerned with impacts and other matters which are specific to the supported energy sources listed above. Generic impacts of energy projects relevant to all energy technologies are covered in the Overarching Energy NPS (EN-1).

In addition to the generic impacts and considerations set out in the Overarching Energy NPS, the Renewables NPS highlights key issues relating to resilience to climate change which applicants should address. The issues vary depending upon the renewable technology employed, for instance biomass plants (which may be located at coastal sites) should be resilient to the effects of rising sea levels, whereas offshore and onshore wind farms should be resilient to storms.

With regard to criteria for "good design" for renewable energy infrastructure, proposals should comply with the principles set out in the Overarching Energy NPS and be designed to mitigate impacts such as noise and effects on ecology.

Biomass and waste combustion

The Renewables NPS makes it clear that the IPC/MIPU will not be concerned with the type of combustion technology an applicant proposes to use – for example, grate combustion, fluidised bed combustion, gasification and pyrolysis. The same policy as set out in the Renewables NPS applies regardless.

The Renewables NPS highlights the different aspects of each type of biomass or energy from waste project. For example, for waste combustion plants the dual role of waste treatment and energy production will alter the commercial rationale for such projects and affect the nature of the application for development consent.

Other factors that the Renewables NPS raises which will affect applicants are:

  • Grid connection access: this will be the same for most energy projects with an electricity generation element;
  • Links to transport networks: the Renewables NPS is clear that due to the considerable transport movements associated with biomass or waste combustion projects (both for fuel delivery and disposing of residues), it favours a multi-modal transport approach but states that materials should be transported via rail and water routes where possible;
  • Carbon capture readiness (CCR): Government policy on CCR for new combustion generating stations with a capacity of 300 MW or more is set out in the Overarching Energy NPS. CCR is therefore relevant to proposed biomass plant at or above the capacity threshold. Development consent will not be granted unless the IPC/MIPU is satisfied that the proposed project meets all the criteria and is "carbon capture ready";
  • Combined heat and power (CHP): if an application does not demonstrate that CHP has been considered, as required by the Overarching Energy NPS, the IPC/MIPU should seek further information from the applicant. Development consent should not be granted unless the IPC/MIPU is satisfied that the applicant has provided evidence that CHP is included, or that the opportunities for CHP have been fully explored. For non-CHP stations, developers may be required to ensure their stations are "CHP ready" and are configured to allow heat supply in the future; and
  • Sustainability of fuels: Development consent should not be granted unless the IPC/MIPU is satisfied that the operator will ensure that biomass or bioliquids meet sustainability requirements imposed by the Renewables Obligation, or successor incentive regimes, regardless of whether ROCs are claimed. 

Offshore wind

The Renewables NPS highlights that offshore wind farms are expected to make up a significant proportion of the UK's renewable electricity generating capacity up to 2020 and towards 2050.

The NPS refers to the fact that Government, through its Offshore Energy Strategic Environmental Assessment, considers there are no overriding environmental considerations to prevent the achievement of the construction of 25 GW of offshore wind.

Key points to note in relation to offshore wind in the Renewables NPS are:

  • it states that although the wind resource is critical to the economics of the project, the collection of this data is not obligatory as such matters are a matter for the commercial judgment of the applicant;
  • the IPC/MIPU should be mindful of constraints placed on applicants by the regulatory regime for offshore transmission networks, in particular that the route and nature of the connection may not be known at the time of application and the transmission infrastructure may be considered "associated development" depending on its scale and nature in relation to the wind farm;
  • the IPC/Secretary of State has the power to grant deemed consents for offshore energy infrastructure under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009; and
  • the IPC/Secretary of State will include a condition in any consent that a decommissioning programme must be submitted prior to any offshore construction works beginning (this is more onerous than under the Energy Act 2004 which only requires a decommissioning programme to be submitted once the Secretary of State has given notice to the applicant).

Onshore wind

The Renewables NPS highlights that onshore wind farms are the most established and large-scale renewable energy source in the UK. The impacts of onshore wind projects are much more well known, both to the public and to the private sector and there is less comment on the various elements of onshore wind projects.

Key points to note in relation to onshore wind in the Renewables NPS are:

  • the Renewables NPS suggests that consents should be time-limited from commencement of generation, and that 25 years is typical in this respect;
  • the time-limited, non-permanent nature of onshore wind projects should be an important consideration when assessing impacts such as landscape and visual effects (this would seem to give the IPC/MIPU scope to reduce the weight to be afforded to what is always a key objection from local communities and interest groups);
  • where elements of the design of the scheme are unknown, the maximum-case scenario should be assessed and the IPC/MIPU should consider the maximum adverse effects in its consideration of the application (applicants should therefore be as precise as possible on the specifications for their project at the time of application); and
  • the Renewables NPS notes that where there are likely to be cumulative effects of multiple onshore wind projects in the same area, it may be appropriate for applicants to work together to avoid or minimise abnormal traffic loads during construction.

Grid connection infrastructure

The Overarching Energy NPS provides that applications must include information on how the energy project is to be connected to the grid and whether there are any particular environmental issues likely to arise with that connection. The Government envisages that wherever possible, applications for new generating stations and related infrastructure should be contained in a single application to the IPC/MIPU, or in separate applications submitted in tandem which have been prepared in an integrated way. The NPS recognises, however, that this may not always be possible or the best course in terms of delivery of the project in a timely way. Where this is the case, the applicant should explain the reasons for the separate application.

Main benefits of the Renewables NPS

  • There is strong national policy support for the provision of new renewable energy infrastructure in order to meet the Government's target of producing around 30% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The IPC/MIPU should act on the basis that need has been demonstrated and that this need is urgent.
  • The Government has a flexible attitude towards energy mix. For example, whilst in the short to medium term much new renewable generation capacity is likely to consist of onshore and offshore wind, the Overarching Energy NPS states that biomass is "a significant source of renewable and low carbon energy".
  • The Renewables NPS adopts a pragmatic approach to technologies used for renewable energy projects, acknowledging that industry is best placed to decide on such matters.

Possible weaknesses in the Renewables NPS

  • The Renewables NPS does not cover other types of renewable energy generation, such as schemes that generate electricity from tidal or wave power. The policy position with regard to these forms of energy generation therefore remains uncertain and forthcoming projects will not benefit from a presumption in favour of development unless and until the NPS is revised or a new NPS covering the currently unsupported technologies is introduced.
  • Wherever possible, applications for new generating stations and related infrastructure should be contained in a single application to the IPC/MIPU. Where this is not the case, the applicant should explain the reasons for the separate applications. This emphasises the importance of liaising with, for example, National Grid, at the very earliest stage in a project.
  • In respect of biomass and/or waste-to-energy projects, the applicant is required to provide evidence that the incorporation of CHP has been fully considered, and in the case of projects of 300 MW or over, the applicant must demonstrate that the project is carbon capture ready.

Summary of changes

The table below sets out the latest changes made following the conclusion of the second consultation in January 2011 to create the version of the NPS laid before Parliament for approval.

Click here to view table.