When designated the National Policy Statement for Electricity Networks Infrastructure (the Electricity Networks NPS), together with the revised Overarching Energy NPS, will be the primary basis for decisions by the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) (or, following the enactment of the Localism Bill, the Secretary of State) on applications for nationally significant electricity networks infrastructure in England and Wales.

The Electricity Networks NPS covers:

  • above ground electricity lines of 132kV and above; and
  • other infrastructure for electricity networks that is associated with a nationally significant infrastructure project.

Changes to the Electricity Networks NPS

The revised Electricity Networks NPS put out for consultation by the Coalition Government in October 2010 amended the draft published in November 2009 by the previous Labour Government by:

  • confirming that the Electricity Networks NPS should be read in conjunction with the Overarching Energy NPS;
  • including biodiversity policy additional to that in the Overarching Energy NPS for the protection of large birds; and
  • clarifying the Government’s policy on "undergrounding" lines (considering whether lines should be placed underground or below the sea) by requiring visual impact, cost and environmental and social challenges to be assessed on a case by case basis.

Following the October 2010 consultation, the Electricity Networks NPS has been further amended to clarify the Government's policy on undergrounding in recognition of the fact that the visual impact of overhead lines is considered to be the most serious impact of electricity networks infrastructure. In addition, the approval version of the Electricity Networks NPS:

  • confirms that, in terms of site selection by the applicant, statutory duties under section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and section 11A of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 may be relevant; and
  • deletes the selection of "a broad route corridor/detailed route alignment" as one of the main opportunities for mitigating potential adverse landscape and visual impacts of electricity networks infrastructure (in addition to the Holford Rules and considering undergrounding).

As with the other NPSs, references to the 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.

A wide impact on network providers

The key parties affected by the Electricity Networks NPS are:

  • entities that construct, own and maintain transmission assets (eg, National Grid Electricity Transmission plc onshore in England and Wales and successful bidders for Offshore Transmission Owner (OFTO) licences, the first of which was awarded in March 2011);
  • entities that construct, own and maintain distribution assets (eg, the 14 licensed distribution network operators in England and Wales, independent distribution network operators (IDNOs) and prospective IDNOs; and
  • entities that are planning other projects which will rely on related new and/or augmented electricity networks (eg, companies building new electricity generation assets).

There is a significant need for the development of networks

The Overarching Energy NPS and the Electricity Networks NPS demonstrate the significant need for electricity networks to be maintained, upgraded and developed. This is required to ensure that:

  • the electricity network is able to cope with expected increases in demand (the number of households in the UK is projected to increase by 31% by 2031);
  • the electricity network responds to changes in the generation mix and geographical spread in order to reach lower carbon objectives and an anticipated diversification of energy sources (eg, the infrastructure required to connect new onshore and offshore wind generation infrastructure necessary to meet the EU target to source 15% of the UK's energy from renewable sources by 2020, and other new generation facilities such as nuclear); and
  • the existing network is properly upgraded to safeguard ongoing supply.

In addition to providing the primary basis for decisions by the IPC/Secretary of State on applications for electricity networks infrastructure, the Overarching Energy NPS and the Electricity Networks NPS will also provide an indication of what should be considered when preparing such applications.

Specific assessment criteria

The Overarching Energy NPS and the Electricity Networks NPS provide descriptions of the key principles for the IPC/MIPU to apply when assessing applications. While the Overarching Energy NPS sets out assessment criteria for generic impacts common to a range of energy technologies (which are not repeated in the Electricity Networks NPS), the Electricity Networks NPS specifically considers issues arising from the technology used in electricity network infrastructure.

Site location

The applicant will need to own the land where construction is to take place (or hold sufficient rights or interest in it) or have the property rights to install the electric lines and associated equipment. It will also need to have access for maintenance and inspection purposes. An applicant may include requests for compulsory wayleaves or purchases of land as part of its application where agreements cannot be reached with the landowners.

The Electricity Networks NPS reiterates existing statutory obligations for transmission and distribution licence holders to have regard to the natural environment, geological or physiographical features of special interest and to protecting sites, buildings and objects of architectural, historic or archaeological interest.

Joint applications

New generation stations and related infrastructure should be submitted in a single application (insofar as possible and appropriate). Early consultation with the IPC/MIPU is encouraged in circumstances where it may not be appropriate to submit joint applications. This emphasises the importance of early liaison with National Grid and distribution network operators where proposals for new power projects are being prepared.

If an application for nationally significant networks infrastructure is required in order to meet the need for new energy infrastructure this may be all the evidence that is required. This is likely to be the case if the proposal is substantially supported by contractual arrangements to provide a connection or if it is based on reasonably anticipated future requirements (eg, for transmission proposals to join up to prospective wind farms indicated by the offshore Round 3 site licensing arrangements). However, the IPC/MIPU is still permitted to consider other factors, including whether the project would make a significant contribution to the promotion of renewable energy, the achievement of climate change objectives, the maintenance of an appropriate level of security of supply and whether it would help to achieve other energy policy objectives. The IPC/MIPU is also required to take into account National Grid's statutory duty to employ the most efficient solution in terms of network design, facilitate competition in the supply and generation of electricity, and to provide a connection whenever or wherever one is required. In addition, the IPC/MIPU will be able to accept an application that seeks development consent for an entire set of works if it can be demonstrated that the works will reinforce the network as a whole and meet the needs set out in the Overarching Energy NPS. In such a case, the applicant is directed to discuss its proposed plans with the IPC/MIPU before submitting a formal application.

Climate change adaptation

Applicants should demonstrate how projects are resilient to the potential impact of climate change (eg, flooding, storms, higher than average temperatures and earth movement).

"Good design" for energy infrastructure

Applicants should demonstrate good designs for projects, in particular in respect of landscape and visual amenity and mitigation of negative effects (eg, noise and electro-magnetic fields).

Impacts of electricity networks

The Electricity Networks NPS states that all generic impacts in the Overarching Energy NPS are likely to be relevant and applicants should consider these even if they only arise in one phase of development (eg, construction) or only apply to one part of the development (such as a substation). The Electricity Networks NPS sets out additional technology specific considerations on the following generic impacts considered in the Overarching Energy NPS:

  1. Biodiversity and Geological Conservation

For the purpose of biodiversity and geological conservation, applicants are required to consider in their environmental impact assessment and environmental statement whether the proposed line will result in collision, electrocution or other incidents involving large terrestrial and wetland birds.

  1. Landscape and Visual

The Electricity Networks NPS confirms that the development of overhead lines is not generally incompatible in principle with a developers' statutory duty under section 9 of the Electricity Act to have regard to amenity and to mitigate impacts. There is presently no general policy to place electricity lines underground and Government has not laid down any general rule about when an overhead line should be considered unacceptable.

Under the Electricity Networks NPS the Holford Rules will still be the basis on which the IPC/MIPU considers applications for routing new overhead lines. In re-stating the Holford Rules in the Electricity Networks NPS the Government removed the statement that the comparative costs of undergrounding should be carefully assessed "for lines other than those of the highest voltage". The Government's view is that some underground technologies are now at a stage where it is never out of the question, in principle, to consider alternatives to overhead lines (eg, as part of an environmental statement) even if overhead lines remain the developer's preferred option and are considered acceptable in planning terms.

The Electricity Networks NPS confirms that proposed underground lines do not require development consent under the Planning Act 2008 (they are permitted development under the Town and Country Planning Act (General Permitted Development) Order 1995). However, if the route of an overhead line proposal makes it likely that its visual impact will be particularly significant, the applicant should be able to demonstrate that it has given appropriate consideration to the potential costs and benefits of other feasible means of connection or reinforcement, including the use of underground and sub-sea cables where appropriate.

The applicant's environmental statement should detail the consideration given to undergrounding or the use of sub-sea cables as a way of mitigating visual impacts. Where these options have not been pursued for cost reasons, the applicant should detail how the costs of mitigation have been calculated. The applicant will also be expected to consider other mitigation opportunities, including improving existing lines, alternative designs, landscape schemes and screening.

Due to the huge variation in the cost of "undergrounding", the IPC/MIPU is directed to make its assessment on a case by case basis depending on the specific circumstances of the project. The IPC/Secretary of State should only refuse consent for overhead line proposals in favour of an underground or sub-sea line if satisfied that the benefits of not using overhead lines will clearly outweigh any extra economic, social and environmental impacts and the technical difficulties are surmountable. In making a decision, the IPC/Secretary of State should consider the landscape in which the proposed line will be set (in particular, the proximity to residential areas, or areas of outstanding natural beauty or historic importance), the additional cost of "undergrounding" or sub-sea cabling, including the costs of making repairs, as well as environmental and archaeological consequences.

  1. Noise and Vibration

In relation to noise and vibration, the IPC/MIPU should ensure the applicant has used the relevant assessment methodologies and that they have demonstrated that appropriate mitigation measures have been considered and adopted.

  1. Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMFs)

The Electricity Networks NPS sets out technology-specific considerations for the impact of EMFs, which are not considered in the Overarching Energy NPS.

Before granting consent, the IPC/Secretary of State must be satisfied that EMFs resulting from new electricity network infrastructure do not exceed the limits proposed by the International Commission on Non-lonising Radiation Protection, and that the proposed project complies with the optimal phasing practice of the industry.

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.

Undergrounding: Further clarification of policy following a large number of responses in favour of underground or sub-sea electricity lines.