This eagerly awaited update follows from the consultation of the draft NPSs in September 2021 and bring to us updated draft energy National Policy Statements (NPSs), opening a further consultation period, ending 25 May 2023.
The energy NPSs set out national energy policy and provide the foundation for decision making in regard to National Significant Infrastructure Projects. The current NPSs, to continue in force until the introduction of the revised versions, are out-dated in consideration the vast advancements to technologies over the last decade. The updates seek to address the urgent need to streamline renewable energy projects to meet national net zero targets.
The key policy changes include:
- Declaration of critical national priority for offshore wind
- Introduction of an offshore wind environmental improvement package
- Review of civil and military aviation and defence interests
- Commitment to the need for new electricity network infrastructure
Critical National Priority for Offshore Wind
The Government has declared there is an urgent and critical need for the provision of new nationally significant offshore wind infrastructure and related network infrastructure to achieve net zero objections. This policy update will provide an overriding need in policy terms for offshore wind to achieve energy objectives and will, generally and subject to legal requirements, outweigh consideration to local impacts.
EN-3 for renewable energy infrastructure provides a positive step toward the British Energy Security Strategy's (BESS) ambitious and accelerated objective to deliver 50GW of offshore wind by 2030 (including up to 5 GW of floating wind). The policy provides clarification to applications on the assessment process to aid their understanding on site selections, technical considerations, environmental standards, impacts, and the mitigation hierarchy. These clarifications are expected to provide greater propensity towards positive outcomes to planning and consenting procedures for upcoming projects and in turn encourage greater investment in the sector
Offshore wind environmental improvement package
In order to meet the target of delivering up to 50GW of offshore wind by 2030, the Government has introduced a new Offshore Wind Environmental Improvement Package (OWEIP) to assist the acceleration of offshore wind projects whilst maintaining protection for the marine environment. BEIS stated that it will continue to work closely with industry and other stakeholders as it develops the regulations for the environmental assessment of offshore wind on protected sites and the Marine Recovery Fund, as well as the wider OWEIP. Additionally, the Government has set out their commitment to establishing Offshore Wind Environmental Standards.
Civil and military aviation and defence interests
Following The Joint Industry and Government Air Defence and Offshore Wind Mitigation Task Force publishing their Joint Strategy and Implementation Plan in September 2021, the Government has made significant amendments to section 5.5 of the draft EN-1 to reflect how civil and military aviation, meteorological radars and other types of defence interests should be managed given the drive for offshore wind.
The revised draft highlights the importance of collaboration between aviation, meteorological, defence and energy industry stakeholders in order that no-one is unfairly compromised by the changes occurring. The amendments aim to provide a more balanced and up-to-date view on the impact by offshore wind on radars together with advising on the various needs and concerns of the difference stakeholders.
The need for new electricity network infrastructure
In order to achieve net zero and reduce the use of fossil fuels, the Government has recognised the critical importance of a network infrastructure to facilitate this change. They have committed to strengthen the energy NPSs to include details on the role of strategic planning of electricity networks and, in particular, how the network should be considered as a whole rather than individual transmission projects.
The Government has highlighted the needs case for infrastructure identified in the Holistic Network Design (HND) and the work that will need to be undergone to consider environmental and community impacts prior to commencing the works identified in the HND. The goal being to ensure more renewable generation can be created at the correct place and time while taking into account potential community and environmental impacts at an earlier stage of planning.
To implement the above, section 2.8 of the draft EN-5 has been revised to recognise the move to the centralised strategic network planning approach. The Government and Ofgem programmes aim to ensure the network can be strategically planned both on and offshore. The aim of these programmes is to provide better clarity to energy developers when they are drafting the 'needs' case for their projects.
For projects not captured under the strategic network planning approach noted above, the Government has referred these projects to the Offshore Transmission Network Review (OTNR) Early Opportunities work stream which would enable offshore wind developers to ‘opt in’ to OTNR supporting their co-ordination.
Further Commitment to Hydrogen
In addition to the key policy changes set out above, low carbon hydrogen will play a significant part in the UK's transition to net zero. Through the BESS, the Government has doubled its ambition for hydrogen production, aiming for up to 10GW by 2030, with at least half of this to come from electrolytic hydrogen. This ambition is subject to affordability and value for money. In order to achieve this, investment will need to be made into pipeline and storage infrastructure to connect producers with consumers. EN-1 states there is an urgent need for all types of low carbon hydrogen infrastructure, that the Government is exploring the feasibility of blending up to 20% hydrogen by volume into the current gas network, and re-emphasises the commitments set out in the UK Hydrogen Strategy.