- -

Labour government would reform planning to speed up onshore wind and grid projects

Published June 30, 2023

Labour government would reform planning to speed up onshore wind and grid projects

The Labour Party has made an election pledge to reform the planning system to allow faster development of onshore wind projects and speed up grid connections. 

One of a Labour government’s first actions, as published in a mission statement, would be to remove barriers to renewable energy projects by updating the planning legislation including National Planning Policy Statements and Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects. This will include introducing new targets for consenting decisions for projects, as well as new measures to monitor decision times and to ensure departments and consultees remain on track.

Labour will align England’s land use framework with its clean energy targets. Local authorities will have to proactively identify areas suitable for renewable generation, rather than assess reactive applications when they are received. Labour will add a net zero mandate to all planning system regulators.

This follows the announcement that Ofgem now has a net zero mandate as part of a recent amendment to the Energy Bill. The party will also introduce a national approach to marine planning decisions to speed up the consenting process for offshore renewables.

The mission statement also addresses the need to build four times more grid infrastructure in the next seven years as has been built in the last 30. The queue for grid connections is long: new grid connection dates are now being offered for the late 2030s.

The plans would include the creation of a Future Systems Operator (FSO) to act as ‘system architect’, regarding electricity, gas, energy generation, and the changing nature of demand. The FSO would work with regional Distribution Network Operators and devolved and local government to develop regional system plans and local area energy plans which link local, regional, and national infrastructure.

Labour will also look at ways to reduce pressure on the grid, including regulation to encourage smart demand management and accelerate the rollout of local renewable power in areas that have an imbalance between supply and demand. Labour will also call a halt to projects that are blocking the queue for grid connection because they are not progressing with their developments.

Other pledges include the creation of a publicly owned energy company, known as GB Energy, to be based in Scotland. The company’s priority will be to co-invest in energy technologies in order to stimulate investment from the private sector.  GB Energy will also invest with a view to accelerating the deployment of established technologies. One way it will do this will be by supporting municipal and community energy projects, although new nuclear would also be in scope. Labour says it will provide further details of this partnership closer to the election.

“The streamlined planning system and GB Energy as a delivery body are two sensible measures if we are to radically decarbonise the grid in the next 10 years,” commented Alfa Energy’s corporate affairs officer, Jeremy Nicholson. “The proposals on planning make sense. The idea is to get planning applications done in months rather than years for most onshore projects. Planning in the UK is unduly restrictive for onshore wind in particular: getting anything done takes forever. All this is clogging up the system. There’s no question of hitting close to net zero power emissions by the mid-2030s without radically reducing planning constraints.

“Meanwhile, a huge proportion of capital in power generation is being directed by government, so arguably it doesn’t make much difference if some funding comes via a national body, whether it’s for nuclear or for the major offshore wind schemes. Fan though I am of private industry doing its thing, if government is effectively mandating what needs to happen anyway, is this really such a big step? A lot of these schemes won’t happen without a large amount of cash being funnelled into them.”