Planning for the future: energy storage projects

Planning for the future: energy storage projects

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Richard Turner, Principal Planner, discusses the challenges of the planning process for energy storage projects in the face of limited planning policy guidance.

Recent years have seen an ever growing demand for energy, and an increase in renewable energy projects. Alongside this, the electricity grid network is coming under increasing pressure as a result of a number of factors. In response energy storage is rapidly being acknowledged as a viable and sustainable solution to support the growth in clean energy technologies.

Storage technologies can absorb and release energy when required and so offer flexibility during times of fluctuating energy generation and demand. Storage technologies can also help to decarbonise UK energy supplies and are consequently being heralded as a key component in the UK reaching the target for emissions reduction under the Climate Change Act.

The Smart System and Flexibility Plan, published in July by BEIS and Ofgem, highlights the increasing need for greater flexibility across the power system as more low carbon generation is deployed. The recent Ofgem announcement in September additionally highlighted that there could be a greater opportunity for the co-location of storage facilities with existing commercial scale renewable energy generators.

Energy storage projects have seen success in recent Capacity Market Auctions and the 200MW of EFR contracts awarded in 2016 means we have seen a rapid increase in the number of planning applications for storage being progressed through the Town and Country Planning Act. However at present there is little set out within either national or local policy which specifically supports the development of energy storage technologies.

The publication of the Government’s Clean Growth Plan (October 2017) has further embedded the position of energy storage in a diversified electricity system. However the absence of specific policies or guidance means most local development plans are silent with respect to energy storage developments. Policies within the NPPF are therefore most pertinent.

The nature of many of these developments requires them to be positioned in close proximity to grid connections with suitable capacity, often in the open countryside; as such policies for development within local plans are generally restrictive, particularly in relation to Green Belt land.

The challenge many developers are facing is ensuring that planning officers, stakeholders and the local community understand both the need for the facilities and the relatively benign nature of the proposals in environmental terms, particularly when compared to more conventional electricity projects.

Having reviewed the relatively small number of planning appeals for energy storage projects, it is clear that Inspectors and Reporters do acknowledge that the improvements in grid stability and security carry significant weight. Furthermore the vital support energy storage developments provide for renewable energy generation facilities is consistent with UK energy and planning policies. This can weigh significantly in favour of energy storage proposals when considering the planning balance exercise.

In our experience early engagement with the local authority planners has been vital to make the detailed application stage a smoother process. As with all new technologies where there is a degree of uncertainty and limited precedent this early engagement can be vital to ensure your planning permission is delivered in time to enter the Capacity Market Auction or similar contracts being pursued.