Summary: The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy recently launched a consultation to examine how best it can alter the UK’s planning legislation and policy frameworks to support developers and businesses seeking to develop energy storage facilities in England. In this article, BCLP examines the focus of this consultation, industry reaction to the Government’s proposals and how this may play into future energy storage trends.
On Monday 14 January, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) launched a consultation to examine how best it can alter the UK’s planning legislation and policy frameworks to support developers and businesses seeking to develop energy storage facilities in England.
The intention is to ensure that the UK’s regulatory environment is structured appropriately to allow for the deployment of larger energy storage assets. This has been expected since the October 2018 Progress Update to the Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan and will be welcomed by industry.
Consultation focus areas
Before it closes on 25 March 2019, the consultation considers and seeks views on the following proposals:
- Whether or not to retain the 50MW Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) threshold that applies to standalone storage projects; and
- Whether or not to amend the Planning Act 2008 to establish a new NSIP capacity threshold for storage projects co-located with other forms of generation (e.g. solar), such that the whole project would only fall under the NSIP regime if the capacity of each aspect exceeds 50MW.
Currently, energy projects exceeding the 50MW capacity threshold become subject to the NSIP regime. These are classified as major infrastructure projects and are dealt with by the Planning Inspectorate under the Planning Act 2008.
The effect of this is that NSIP projects require a specific type of planning consent from the national government in the form of a Development Consent Order (DCO) before they can proceed with the development. The DCO regime had been designed to provide certainty and confidence and has had some notable success.
BCLP’s no.1 rated planning team have helped a number of clients through this DCO process and we have seen that it can increase costs and lengthen timescales for developers, which can be a major deterrent. See below for a quick overview of the six-stage DCO application process.
This is in contrast to projects with a capacity up to 50MW that, from a planning perspective, just require local authority approvals. Such applications are typically much less costly and, subject to a few exceptions, have a statutory time limit for determination of 13 weeks for major developments and 8 weeks for all other types of development.
It is worth noting that offshore electricity generating assets are only subject to the NSIP regulatory requirements if they exceed 100MW, and these are not being directly assessed within this consultation.
Industry has generally welcomed the consultation as showing a potential willingness from the UK Government to make it easier for developers to secure planning permission for grid-scale energy storage. This would make it more efficient and economical for developers to deploy large storage assets and significant co-location projects.
Frank Gordon, head of policy at the Renewable Energy Association, has welcomed the launch of this consultation saying that: “With this consultation, the Government is proposing to make it easier for grid-scale storage to secure planning permission, which will remove a crucial barrier to this promising sector’s growth. This, in turn, will support job creation in cleantech design, manufacturing and operations.”
However, we feel that the proposed changes may not go far enough to counter the prohibitive costs and timeframes required by the DCO process. For example, whilst the REA is due to support BEIS’ consultation, it has stated that it will be recommending the introduction of expanded Permitted Development rights to companies wishing to erect co-located generation and storage facilities.
Interestingly, it should be noted that the devolved government in Wales has already legislated to increase the NSIP threshold to 350MW – taking effect from 1 April 2019.
High hopes have been placed on energy storage in the UK for a number of years with suppliers, developers and investors all excited by the asset class. It has been seen as a great enabling technology, promising a new era in clean energy projects whilst balancing demand and supply on the grid. However, the sector has not yet fully realised its potential with the rate of deployment being slowed down by regulatory uncertainty and adverse change. We believe this is temporary and that energy storage will play a key role in changing the UK’s energy landscape towards decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitalisation, both as a stand-alone asset class and co-located with renewable energy generation.
This consultation is a welcome step in the modernisation of the UK’s regulatory framework and should help to encourage the deployment of energy storage and renewables in an economic manner.