On 9 November 2009, the Department of Energy and Climate Change unveiled the draft Renewable Energy National Policy Statement (NPS) together with another five draft National Policy Statements, one Overarching Energy NPS (the Overarching NPS) and four 'technology-specific' energy NPSs.

The Renewable NPS is designed to facilitate and streamline planning application process for large renewable projects, as well as provide the framework within which development consents for these types of projects will be granted. This will be of particular interest to developers of renewable energy projects and other stakeholders in that industry.

As previously reported, the Government established a new independent body as part of the reform of the planning system, the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), which will consider all planning applications relating to nationally significant infrastructure projects in accordance with the guidance set out in the NPSs. It is anticipated that the NPS will bring more clarity and a higher degree of predictability to the process as it informs the applicants on the main issues the IPC will consider.

What sort of projects does the NPS apply to?

The Renewable NPS only applies to significant renewable energy infrastructure projects with the minimum threshold of:

  • 100MW for offshore wind
  • 50 MW for onshore wind and
  • 50 MW for energy from biomass and/or waste

The IPC will consider all projects that meet these thresholds and will make its decision within one year from the date of application, making it considerably faster than the current approval process which in some instances can take up to five years. All other projects that do not meet the set threshold will remain under local authority control for planning purposes.

Key points of the NPS

The NPS is divided into three separate sections dealing with three different renewable technologies: offshore wind, onshore wind and biomass/waste combustion. Within these three sections, the NPS lists (i) various factors that may influence project developers when selecting a site, (ii) technical considerations to be taken into account by the IPC when determining renewable projects and (iii) any impacts that the development and operation of the project may have.

Factors influencing site selection by applicants

  • Offshore Wind - in selecting a site for an offshore wind project, developers will need to consider factors such as environmental implications of the development, any permissions that need to be obtained from the Crown Estate before installing any offshore structures, wind resource of a proposed wind farm, geological conditions of the site and their suitability for the proposed development, grid connection into the relevant electricity network, and other offshore infrastructure or activities that may interfere with the site.
  • Onshore Wind - considerations such as predicted wind speed, proximity of site to dwellings, capacity of a site, connection of the proposed wind farm to the national grid and access to the site for both its construction and operation will be relevant to onshore wind farm developers.
  • Biomass and Waste Combustion - developers need to consider factors such as grid capacity and connection, any necessary links to transport networks, combined heat and power application, and carbon capture readiness for certain types of combustion generating stations.

Technical consideration for the IPC when determining renewable projects

  • Offshore Wind - the IPC will take into account technical considerations such as constrains presented by the regulatory regime for offshore transmission networks, any details of the project that the applicant may not know about at the time of the application but that will be finalised after the IPC consent, any allowances that should be made for unforeseen events that may affect the project (micrositing), any constraints in the leases for the land adjacent to existing consented wind farms, repowering of the old site with new turbines, monitoring and measuring the impact of the development, and any decommissioning programmes that need to be considered by the Secretary of State before any offshore construction work begins.
  • Onshore Wind - the IPC will considers technical factors such as access tracks to connect onshore wind farms to the public road network, the lifetime of the project, flexibility in the project details and design, any flexibility in a project consent due to any unforeseen event in the future, and repowering of existing sites with new turbines.
  • Biomass and Waste Combustion - the IPC will take into account any uncertainties in the development of a biomass/waste combustion plant to ensure necessary flexibility in the project details.

IPC Impact Assessment

  • Offshore Wind - the most important considerations for offshore wind projects when assessing their general impact include impacts on marine ecology and biodiversity (especially during construction and decommissioning of the project), the livelihood of fish, marine mammals and birds, commercial fishing activities, historic environment, navigation and shipping, and any existing oil, gas and other offshore infrastructure and activities.
  • Onshore Wind - the IPC will consider onshore wind project impacts on biodiversity and geological conservation, historic environment, landscape, visual and noise considerations, potential shadow flicker effect, and any effect on traffic and transport.
  • Biomass and Waste Combustion - in addition to the impact considerations set out in the Overarching NPS, the IPC should also assess the impact of biomass/waste combustion plant on air quality and emissions (this NPS does not cover CO2 emissions), landscape and visual effects, local and regional waste management, and residue management.

Next Steps

The consultation on this NPS is open to the public and will remain open until 22 February 2010. After the consultation is closed, the NPS will go to Parliament for approval following which the NPS will be designated and the IPC will acquire powers in accordance with the NPS. It is planned that the IPC commences its operations in March 2010.

To read our previous law-now on the Overarching NPS, please click here

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to www.law-now.com/law-now/mondaq

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 12/11/2009.