The government has this week launched its consultation on the long-anticipated review of the proposed National Policy Statements (NPS) for Energy. The review seeks to bring the NPS up to date by adding new technologies and addressing climate-related legislative and policy changes.

Designated in 2011, the Energy NPS are a suite of documents setting out the government’s policy for delivering energy infrastructure. They are the main policy planning decisions on nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) for energy infrastructure. The NPS suite includes the Overarching NPS for Energy (EN-1) alongside five technology specific NPS for the energy sector. With the evolution of governmental policy and the drive to achieving net zero, the 2020 Energy White Paper called for the imminent review of the outdated NPS.

The deadline for responding to the consultation is 29 November 2021. Unfortunately, this will mean missing the government’s self-imposed deadline to designate an updated NPS by the end of 2021, as stated in the White Paper. Until the refreshed NPS suite is formally approved, the existing NPS will continue to inform decision making relating to development consent.

Importantly, the consultation makes it clear that for any application accepted for examination before designation of the amendments to the NPS, the original suite of NPS will remain the primary policy. Applications will only be determined against the revised NPS if they are accepted for examination after the designation of those amendments.

Key proposed changes highlighted in the consultation include:

Increased scope - the Overarching NPS for Energy (EN-1) may have effect on its own as the primary policy for decision making where there is no technology-specific NPS, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), hydrogen and other forms of novel low carbon generation. EN-1 also makes it clear that it will be, in conjunction with any relevant technology specific NPS, the primary policy for the Secretary of State’s NSIP decision making on energy infrastructure.

Net Zero compliance - the NPS has been updated to comply with the transition to achieving net zero by 2050 and establish an urgent need for new renewable energy infrastructure.

Offshore wind: substantial changes have been made to the section of EN-3, which deals with offshore wind, to support the delivery of the target of 40GW capacity by 2030 alongside provisions to utilise the technology, policy, scientific evidence and best practice methodologies developed over the past 10 years. In particular, new sections and criteria have been added on marine planning, co-ordinated offshore transmission, environmental compensation, environmental net gain, and the 25-year Environment Plan. The section now also provides greater signalling to industry on considering the need for environmental compensation prior to application and to consider collaborating with others. EN-5 also includes updated guidance on the coordination of onshore and offshore electricity transmission infrastructure associated with offshore wind farms, with particular reference to the ongoing offshore transmission network review (OTNR). It is acknowledged that the NPS may need to be further updated in the future to take account of recommendations from the OTNR.

Assessment principles - greater focus is given to environmental principles, including marine considerations, and new sections have been provided to cover biodiversity net gain, early engagement with stakeholders and good design principles.

Achieving a diverse generation mix - the need for new coal and oil-fired electricity production has been struck out, and the future generation mix is confirmed with focus on low carbon generation and renewable energy infrastructure, alongside CCS and hydrogen generation. Limited detail has been included on the approach to hydrogen generation (this is stated to be because the government’s hydrogen strategy has not yet been published but it was in fact published nearly a month ago). Additionally, the NPS no longer provides information on onshore wind in recognition of previous changes to the NSIP regime, while new guidance has been included on pumped hydro storage, solar PV and tidal stream energy.

Electricity network infrastructure – reference is made to the need to develop robust electrical infrastructure networks alongside storage and efficient interconnections. Most significant is the change of policy on burying electricity lines. While overhead cable routes are presumed for new electricity lines, in National Parks and AONBs, the strong starting presumption will be that new lines should be underground. Additionally, developers are being encouraged away from reliance on wayleaves, instead being asked to seek to secure permanent land rights wherever possible.

Nuclear: Excluded from the review is the NPS covering nuclear power generation (EN-6). Initial consultation on a review of EN-6 commenced in December 2017 when the government launched a consultation for a new NPS for nuclear power for 2026-2035 and it is expected that this will continue on a separate timeline.

Once formally approved, the new NPS suite will provide the foundation for decision making by the Secretary of State and Planning Inspectorate when considering nationally significant energy development consents. This long awaited review will realign the Energy NPS with current policy on net zero and re-affirm the urgent need to secure new renewable energy generation.