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Devolution of energy consents proposed for Wales

The Silk Commission, set up to consider possible changes to the powers of the devolved government in Wales, have recommended a new division of responsibilities between UK and Welsh Ministers as regards the consenting of energy projects (click here for their report).  The Commission propose that “responsibility for all energy planning development consents for projects up to 350 MW onshore and in Welsh territorial waters should be devolved to the Welsh Government”.  This would bring Welsh Ministers closer to parity with their Scottish counterparts in energy consenting: they have long complained that there is no good reason why proposed generating stations with a capacity of more than 50 MW should be determined by UK Ministers if they are Wales, but by Scottish Ministers if they are in Scotland.  Although the proposal is not tied to particular technology types, sub-350 MW schemes are always likely to be renewables projects.

As in many parts of the UK, new renewable developments are not always popular in Wales.  In Wales there have been particular problems as a result of the relevant Welsh Government planning policy document, TAN 8, which encouraged developers to focus their proposals for wind farms on a number of designated areas.  So, in Powys, for example, a conjoined public inquiry is currently being held (on behalf of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change) into five proposed wind farms with a combined capacity of several hundred MW.  As well as being unpopular with local residents, this kind of concentration of development in a given area presents major logistical problems for developers: the capacity of the road networks to cope with the large numbers of outsize loads that would need to be transported on them to build the wind farms is severely constrained in the largely rural areas involved.

Under the Commission’s proposals, Welsh Ministers would have to deal with the consequences of TAN 8 as decision-makers on individual applications.  But UK Ministers have so far been very reluctant to give up their decision-making powers over larger Welsh wind projects, even though the objections to them are not confined to Wales itself: the proposed line of pylons that would carry power from mid-Wales wind farms to the Grid in England would pass through Shropshire and has excited plenty of opposition on the English side of the border.   Whilst the Commission’s overall plan is for new primary legislation on Welsh devolution by 2017, they point out that the competence of the Welsh Assembly could be expanded by secondary legislation on a shorter timescale.  However, it seems unlikely that any action will be taken that would result in Welsh Ministers, rather than the Secretary of State, determining the five Powys applications.

The Commission also recommend giving Welsh Ministers the power to approve “associated development” such as roads and substations as part of a development consent order for a “nationally significant” generating station under the Planning Act 2008.  At present, absurdly, this can currently be done for English, but not for Welsh projects, meaning that the supposed “one-stop shop” provided by the 2008 Act for consenting complex projects is nothing of the kind in Wales.

In a politically charged area where there are probably no perfect solution, the Commission’s proposals deserve serious consideration.

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Devolution of energy consents proposed for Wales

Plugging in to a European Supergrid?

Interconnection is a hot topic.  “We need much better grid interconnectors around Europe to enable energy to flow across the EU”, UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, recently told The Independent.  Mr Davey’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has just published More interconnection: improving energy security and lowering bills.  And it was recently reported that the development of a proposed UK-Norway interconnector was at a critical stage.

Interconnectors are essential to the EU single market in energy, which is meant to be completed in 2014.  They are also likely to be part of the solution to the problem of how to include non-UK providers in capacity market auctions under UK Electricity Market Reform (EMR).  This in turn may be an important point for the European Commission in granting state aid approval for EMR (see EU renewable generators: time to wean them off “overcompensating” subsidies?).  But while last year’s EU Regulation on cross-border infrastructure should make it easier to get interconnectors built and funded, the new DECC paper, and the Redpoint analysis that accompanies it, show very clearly why interconnection is such a difficult area for the UK.


An Interconnected Europe?  Commission’s interactive map of Projects of Common Interest (electricity schemes are in blue)

Geography plays a part: it is inevitably more expensive to interconnect the UK with other EU markets than it is to interconnect many markets in Continental Europe.  But that is only the start.  Which markets should we connect to, and when?  How big should the connections be?  Who should build, own and pay them, where and when?  The answers to these questions depend on a lot of other, interdependent factors that are themselves not easy to pin down: notably the future generating mix in the UK and other markets concerned, and future fossil fuel and carbon prices.  DECC’s summary of Redpoint’s work notes that the possible impact on GB consumers ranges, rather neatly, from potential net benefits of around £9 billion to potential net costs of around £9.5 billion.

Perhaps the toughest questions are who should decide between the competing merits of rival interconnection schemes, and when that decision should be taken.  Historically, neither the planning regime nor the regulatory network development process have had to pick winners and losers in this way.  But DECC’s acknowledgement that the issue should be looked at strategically and some kind of plan formed is encouraging.  They identify Ofgem’s Integrated Transmission Planning and Regulation (ITPR) project, and its ongoing consideration of Project Nemo and other proposed interconnection schemes as the proper vehicle for next steps on UK interconnection policy: watch this space.

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Plugging in to a European Supergrid?