The government is reviewing how electricity storage is treated in the planning system. Electricity storage is key to Britain’s Industrial Strategy and is expected to play a significant part in helping to reduce emissions to net-zero by 2050. Progress on consenting for these projects is needed now, more than ever before given the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) records over 100 prospective battery storage projects are on its Renewables Energy Planning Database.
What are the proposals?
In its latest consultation on consenting electricity storage projects, BEIS is proposing, for England and Wales:
- Pumped hydro projects above 50MW (350MW in Wales) will continue to be consented under the Planning Act regime (i.e. they remain nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs))
- Other electricity storage projects in England will be consented by local planning authorities under the Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA) regime.
This means that:
- Promoters (in England) can still apply for the project to be consented under the Planning Act regime (by requesting the Secretary of State make a direction (a section 35 direction))
- For electricity storage projects being developed in conjunction with an NSIP electricity generating station (in England) promoters have the option of including the storage element as associated development, consented in the development consent order (DCO) for that NSIP.
A change of direction
BEIS has changed its position in response to new evidence from stakeholders. BEIS’s position at the beginning of the year was set out in its previous consultation on the topic. By way of explanation, 'The overarching policy aim is to support the deployment of electricity storage by ensuring the planning system treats storage appropriately relative to its impacts and doesn’t impose any significant barriers in England and Wales … This policy aims to increase investor confidence, remedy the potential distortionary impacts on developers sizing/investment decisions – especially those who would otherwise have sized their project just below threshold – and reduce any inappropriate costs for developers seeking to develop larger co-located or standalone storage projects.'
BEIS maintains that electricity storage projects are considered a form of generating station by government for planning and licensing purposes. It states that this will be defined in primary legislation when parliamentary time allows.
What is the ‘new’ evidence?
Respondents to January’s consultation explained the 50MW capacity threshold, which pushed standalone electricity storage projects into the NSIP regime, was a barrier to deploying larger projects (for both time and securing investment/cash flow reasons). They provided evidence showing clustering of projects just below the 50MW threshold and details of projects which had been capped at 49.9MW and those which had been split into multiple 49.9MW projects.
What conclusions have been drawn?
The evidence suggests to BEIS that the NSIP threshold 'has been distorting sizing/investment decisions'. Respondents also highlighted that the impacts of battery storage are typically less than other forms of generation – mostly due to the size of each project’s footprint. BEIS concludes that local authorities are capable of balancing the impacts and the benefits of electricity storage projects.
Carving electricity storage out of the NSIP regime also means simpler rules for consenting a ‘retrofit’ of electricity storage (i.e. adding a storage development to an already consented generating station). There is no need to put in place thresholds for that addition, whether calculated as a composite or not. Nor is there the need to decide whether it should entail an amendment or a variation to an existing consent or warrant a new consent altogether. Promoters have the option to seek consent for the electricity storage project from the local planning authority or seek a variation to the consent for the original generating station.
Why should pumped hydro storage remain in the NSIP regime?
BEIS believes the NSIP regime will be a more efficient consenting route for pumped hydro storage because: the impacts of pumped hydro storage can be larger than other forms of electricity storage; and the projects also often require other consents and authorisation for compulsory acquisition of land (which can be included in a DCO).
Clarification for small projects
In the previous consultation, BEIS indicated that those wishing to make use of permitted development rights for electricity storage had to use the majority of the electricity stored on the premises. Working with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), BEIS has clarified that the majority of the electricity stored does not need to be used on the premises. However, the storage must be ancillary to the primary use of the premises.
BEIS also highlights that electricity undertakings will have opportunities to use their permitted development rights to develop electricity storage on their operational land.
Clarification on the application of EIA legislation
BEIS considers electricity storage projects fall within the description of 'industrial installations for the production of electricity' within the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regime. EIA will be needed if the project is larger than 0.5 hectares and is likely to have significant effects on the environment. Where electricity storage is proposed as an addition to a generating station (itself EIA development), the EIA regime may apply by way of that storage development being a change or extension of EIA development.
What will happen next?
The consultation closes on 10 December. The consultation includes the draft legislation required to implement BEIS’s proposals (making amendments to the Planning Act 2008 and the Electricity Act 1989). BEIS anticipate the statutory instruments will be enacted around six months after the consultation closes (i.e. summer 2020). In order to assist local authorities, BEIS is also working with MHCLG to update planning practice guidance so it specifically refers to electricity storage.
For non pumped storage schemes in Wales, this means all standalone storage schemes will be consented by way of planning permission granted by the local planning authority.