In January 2019 the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) held a consultation on the treatment of electricity storage within the planning system. It proposed in that paper that the 50MW threshold for standalone electricity storage projects should remain, with such projects falling within the nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIP) regime.
However, as a result of the largely negative responses received – 76% of respondents disagreed with BEIS on this issue - BEIS has changed its position and is undertaking a second follow up consultation until 10 December 2019 (whilst at the same time setting out its response to the first).
It records that respondents thought the current 50MW NSIP threshold is a major hindrance to the delivery of larger storage projects. The stakeholder responses to the first consultation referred to issues with delays to larger projects, securing investment, and cash flow as a result of the existing NSIP threshold. Given that electricity storage is a key element of Britain’s Industrial Strategy, and that it plays a key role in the aim to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050, this secondary consultation is no great surprise, despite being a change of tack.
BEIS is now seeking views its (reversed) position to to carve out electricity storage projects, excepting pumped hydro, from the NSIP regime in England and Wales. The new consultation document is available here. It seeks views on whether BEIS should proceed with the following key proposals:
- pumped hydro projects above 50MW will still be consented via the NSIP process;
- other electricity storage projects (including battery storage) in England will be consented local planning authorities (LPAs) under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
- all non-pumped storage schemes in Wales will be consented by way of planning permission granted by the LPA.
- as ever, the Secretary of State will retain power under the Planning Act 2008 to require certain projects into the NSIP regime if they consider it appropriate.
In response to respondents’ comments, the consultation also provides clarity on the application of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) legislation to electricity storage facilities, and offers guidance on making use of permitted development rights for electricity storage.
BEIS offers the following contextual explanation for its new direction:
‘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.'
After the consultation closes on 10 December 2019, BEIS will move forwards to implementing their proposals via the draft legislation they have put forward (the draft Electricity Storage Facilities (Exemption) (England and Wales) Order). The predicted timetable for this is 6 months after the consultation closes, so Summer 2020. Also anticipated are updates to planning practice guidance with input from MHCLG.