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EDITOR’S CHOICE MARKET FOCUS Have planning laws curtailed the approval

of large-scale generating capacity? No. The development consent order (DCO) regime is working – as evidenced by the 22 nationally significant generation projects consented since 2010. These include Hinkley Point C, the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, the Walney Extension that will create the world’s largest offshore windfarm, and numerous other offshore wind farms and gas fired power stations. Four other energy-related projects (grid connections and storage facilities) that are large enough to be classed as nationally significant have also received development consent in that time.

Have developers been put off Figure 2:

National Grid deployed measures carefully designed to deal with power plant failure

it – the evidence is in the 41 nationally significant energy projects currently going through the planning system”, said Douglas Ainsley, Associate in the Planning and Infrastructure department at Bircham Dyson Bel. Have planning laws curtailed the approval

“Even supposedly

promoting new projects by their bruising experiences of the DCO process? It would seem not. “Our experience is that developers really rather like the certainty that the fixed timescales bring. But don’t take our word for

unpopular onshore wind developments were making it through the planning system at such a rate that the government has taken action to curtail its expansion.”

of small-scale generating capacity? No. Planning hasn’t stopped solar being so successful (around 8gigawatts of peak capacity installed in five years) that the government is removing its incentives, claiming it has no choice due the cost of the subsidies. It has proposed a controversially steep cut to the rate of the feed in tariff and has announced that community energy schemes

will no longer be eligible for start-up tax reliefs. If

planning laws were stopping these developments, government

wouldn’t have to risk voters’ ire with such drastic interventions.

Even supposedly unpopular onshore wind developments were making it through the planning system at such a rate that the government has taken action to curtail its expansion. Many doubt that is a wise move in an energy crunch, given how successful and relatively cheap onshore wind is. It also remains to be seen how effective these measures will be. That large onshore wind development will now be subject to local planning approval is not really a big change as very few onshore wind developments were ever large enough to be nationally significant and so subject instead to ministerial approval. Moreover, the wind industry has been innovating its business models in order to share benefits with local communities, measures which could significantly reduce local opposition.

SO IF PLANNING ISN’T THE PROBLEM, WHAT IS? Economic factors are certainly playing their part. New capacity is getting planning consent, but it’s not getting built, and that’s often because of financing problems. The lengths the chancellor had to go to before funding could be secured for Hinkley Point C are well documented. There have been reports of consented gas plants being unable to attract the investment needed to complete them. If that’s the case, perhaps the government should be doing less to secure investments for projects that would come on line in 10 years (if all goes to plan - not a given in the case of large, complex nuclear projects), and more to ensure delivery of projects that could keep the lights on right now.

Bircham Dyson Bell 020 7227 7000

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