As part of a ‘green day’, the UK Government released a plethora of energy and net zero related documents on 30 March. The one that grabbed the headlines was a new ‘Powering Up Britain: Energy Security Plan’, released alongside a related ‘Net Zero Growth Plan’. The government were forced to prepare them after the High Court ruled last July that existing plans were not detailed enough to show how the UK could meet its net zero emissions targets by 2050.
A slew of related policy documents, consultations and government responses to previous consultations – in all, 44 documents and over 2,500 pages – accompanied the new plans. These concern the detail of the many ‘moving parts’ of the net zero machine and were in motion before the High Court’s judgement – but they illustrate just how complex an undertaking reaching net zero and ensuring UK energy security is.
Overall energy policy unchanged
The new Energy Security Plan was immediately criticised by opposition parties and green groups for recycling already announced policy. There is a lot of truth in this – but given why the new plan had to be produced this was inevitable. The overarching policy hasn’t changed and remains as set out in the 2020 Energy White Paper - to completely decarbonise the entire UK energy system by 2050. This is augmented by the British Energy Security Strategy of April 2022, which among other things, aims to decarbonise the electricity system by 2035, including by expanding UK renewable power.
Many measures in the plan, e.g. on ensuring adequate gas supplies, on growing nuclear, carbon capture and hydrogen production, affect everyone indirectly but not rural areas specifically. Many landowners, however, have a strong interest in renewable power and growing this is central to the plan. The existing UK targets to reach 50GW of offshore wind by 2030 and a fivefold increase in solar power capacity (to 70GW) by 2035 are retained. As ever, some parts of the new plan are more relevant to members than others. There are a couple of CLA wins and things to keep an eye on.
On solar, the government has listened to arguments put forward by CLA and others and decided not to make changes to categories of agricultural land in ways that would constrain solar deployment. The government sent very mixed signals on this in 2022. The CLA welcomes this clarification and the commitment to expand solar power on both on commercial/industrial and domestic rooftops and on low/medium grade land. We also look forward to the promised solar roadmap next year setting out the deployment trajectory to meet the 70GW of solar by 2035 target.
Reform of grid connections
We also welcome the commitment to reform the grid connections process, at both transmission and distribution levels, which is delaying both generation and demand projects in many parts of the country. As CLA have repeatedly pointed out, projects are being quoted exorbitant sums and timescales stretching into the 2030’s to connect, a situation which is limiting decarbonisation. We look forward with interest to the new connections action plan promised in the summer.
Grid investment and speeding delivery of network infrastructure
The past few years have seen intense activity in the energy world with much revision, re-thinking and re-engineering needed to adapt to a low carbon future. The new plan makes clear that the magnitude of change required, and its pace, is unprecedented. This isn’t just about generating more power in low carbon ways, it is also about re-designing and growing the capacity of networks to move more power around more effectively. This inevitably will mean more wires and pylons over rural land, and the government want to speed up the process of consenting and delivery. In line with this, alongside the new plan they have released for consultation revised energy National Policy Statements (the planning policies for large strategic energy projects of national significance), including one that covers renewable energy and one for network infrastructure.
The CLA recognises the need outlined in the new plan to expand the electricity grid at scale to meet predicted rise in power demand and supply, and the desire to speed up consenting and delivery. Grid investment is essential, but without proper co-ordination and planning the many more miles of wires and pylons needed could severely disrupt the farming and other businesses which operate from the land over which they go. Speeding the pace of infrastructure delivery is necessary, but to achieve it, the government must also improve the system of consultation with and compensation of affected landowners.
The CLA will scrutinise the Energy Security Plan and related documents over the coming months and will respond appropriately.