Today's entry reports on the publication of a select committee report on the revised energy National Policy Statements.

Today, the report of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee of the House of Commons into the six revised energy National Policy Statements was published. The report of the committee can be found here, but to save reading 91 pages, read on.

The committee heard oral evidence on 30 November from the government and on 14 December from energy promoters and stakeholders. The transcript of the evidence is included in full, but I summarised it in previous blog posts here and here.

Main conclusion: delay

The committee has made 18 recommendations in its report. The most important recommendation (and one that I don't agree with) is about the timing of the NPSs. The committee calls for the NPSs not to be finalised ('designated') until:

  • the Localism Bill has been enacted and the abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) has occurred (probably April 2012);
  • the national planning policy framework is operational (not yet open to consultation - suggestions sought by the end of February);
  • the national infrastructure plan is operational (it is already, to be updated by the end of 2011) and
  • it is 'harmonised' with the electricity market reform process (consultation until March, to be implemented in 2013/14).

I disagree with this for several reasons. First, in general there is always a new policy about to come out, and to wait until policy development is 'finished' would be futile. More importantly, however, to delay designation of the NPSs will threaten the delivery of low-carbon electricity production in the UK. As the NPSs say, and the committee acknowledges, the need for this is 'urgent', and to wait at least another 15 months will put off potential promoters of projects, already concerned at the effect of the abolition of the IPC.

Thirdly, the committee's worry that the IPC will approve lots of projects is unfounded. It is only likely to decide one application before April 2012, possibly two, and those applications could in any event be 'called in' by the government for decision under the existing regime even if the NPSs are designated.

Other conclusions

Despite the misgivings of the environmental organisations the committee listened to, it has decided that the Appraisals of Sustainability 'pass muster'. It does recommend, however, that the government should publish guidance on how it will appraise future NPSs in a way that complies with the requirements for Strategic Environmental Assessment (environmmental assessment of policies).

The committee do not like the proposals in the Localism Bill to ratify NPSs in Parliament merely by the chance to vote against them in the Commons (which the government would presumably adopt voluntarily in advance of its Localism Bill becoming law), although it does accept this for future minor changes to NPSs. It recommends a full day's debate in the Commons and a separate vote on each of the six NPSs, with the possibility of amendments.

The committee approve of the replacement of the IPC as decision-making body by the government, but seek to reduce the government's leeway in going against the recommendations of the replacement of the IPC, the Major Infrastructure Planning Unit (MIPU). It calls for the Localism Bill to set out the circumstances when the government can go against MIPU's recommendation, and to give reasons for doing so.

The committee does not like the perceived weakening of the application of the 'Holford Rules' on siting overhead electric lines, and recommends that the wording of the original drafts (where the rules are the 'basis' rather than beaing 'borne in mind') be reinstated. Indeed it goes further and recommends that cables are put underground in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The committee accepts the argument for more spatial consideration of energy infrastructure (i.e. saying where it should go), although recommends that this is included in the proposed national planning policy framework rather than the NPSs.

Finally, the committee recommends that types of already-consented infrastructure should be borne in mind when considering new applications, and that the Committee on Climate Change's goal of decarbonising electricity by 2030 should be explicit, worrying that without this there will be a new 'dash for gas'.

The government will consider this report together with the results of the associated public consultation, which closed on Monday, and decide whether any further amendments are necessary and whether to consult further on them.