Environmental news round up - 23 Jun 2023
Labour energy strategy announced – Making Britain a clean energy superpower?
Labour’s highly anticipated energy mission was announced earlier this week. The headline is a plan the ‘make Britain a clean energy superpower to cut bills, create jobs and deliver security with cheaper, zero-carbon electricity by 2030, accelerating to net zero’. It can be read in full here.
Key energy targets
Labour’s ‘mission’ includes a range of energy targets for clean power by 2030:
- Quadrupling offshore wind, aiming to hit 55 GW* by 2030
- Pioneer floating offshore wind by fast-tracking a minimum of 5 GW of capacity
- Increasing solar power by more than 3x to 50 GW
- Increasing onshore wind capacity by more than 2x to 35 GW
- Finishing existing nuclear projects including Hinkley and Sizewell
- Backing new nuclear such as Small Modular Reactors
- Investing in carbon capture and carbon storage, hydrogen and long-term energy storage
- Doubling the current government’s target on green hydrogen
Key areas of focus
In addition to the targets for clean power by 2030, Labour also sets out policies it would plan to implement in its first year of government, if it wins the next election (whenever that might come). Areas Labour says it would focus on (some of which make up its first year policies) include removing barriers to offshore wind, the grid, passing on the cheap price of renewables to consumers, warm homes, creating a new publicly-owned clean generation company, GB Energy, creating a local power plan, protecting the natural environment and decarbonising transport.
The mission looks to remove existing blockers to the creation of new offshore wind farms. It would aim to reduce the time for renewable projects from years to months with a new framework to monitor decision times, and attempt to reduce bureaucracy in decision making and regulator regimes.
Labour would hope to build 4 x as much grid infrastructure in the next 7 years as has been built over the last 30. It states that the grid has become the ‘single greatest obstacle to both deploying cheap, clean power generation and electrifying industry’.
In de-linking the price of renewables from gas, Labour hopes to pass the cheap price of renewables onto consumers.
Labour says it would retrofit home installation to deliver warm homes, which will cut household bills by up to £1,000 a year.
GB Energy would be a new publicly-owned clean generation company to harness the power of Britain’s sun, wind and waves as well as investing in and delivering additional investment. Labour also aims for GB Energy to create jobs and build supply chains in the UK.
Most of Labour’s proposals also point to job creation across the country.
In addition to these areas of focus, Labour suggests it would turn the focus away from oil and gas by not granting new licences for oil and gas exploration. However, it does admit that North Sea oil and gas will continue for decades and that existing licences will not be revoked. In terms of job security for oil and gas workers, it wants to work with the industries and trade unions to create alternative opportunities in clean energy.
Labour suggests it will set out further plans for other areas of the economy to ensure their net zero attacks from all angles, ‘from homes and buildings, to transport, agriculture, industry and business’.
The plans set out bold targets for clean energy, but are they realistic, and are they enough?
Sceptics suggest that Labour has kept changing its policy position in the lead up to this week’s announcement, particularly in relation to North Sea oil and gas and a figure of £28bn per year previously floated for investment into net zero industries. The Conservative’s Rishi Sunak and Grant Schapps took aim at Labour’s plans, accusing the Labour leader Keir Starmer of being the political wing of campaign group Just Stop Oil and suggesting the mission was writing by the group, partly due to donations to the party by a Just Stop Oil backer. Critics also suggest that Labour’s plan to not grant any new licences for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea would signal disaster for Scottish industry, whereas Labour insists Scotland forms a central point of their plans – and suggest GB Energy would be based there.
It remains to be seen whether a Labour government is elected at the next general election, and if so whether they are able to implement their plans as promised in their energy mission. The political and economic backdrop may change considerably in the time up to that election, but the environmental concerns will not be going anywhere meaning implementation of energy plans is likely to be followed keenly by environmental campaigners, lawyers, political opponents and the public alike, whatever form the next government takes.
*1 GW = 1 billion watts
Thousands of packs of PPE found near nature reserve
Thousands of packs of old PPE have been found by New Forest District Council in Calmore, Totton, a town located between Southampton and the New Forest.
New Forest District Council had been investigating the use of Little Testwood Farm when they made this discovery. The site is adjacent to Testwood Lakes, a 55-hectare nature reserve, which is owned by Southern Water and managed by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, and is a popular local attraction in the summer months.
On Wednesday 14 June, the Hampshire County Council Regulatory Committee discussed the matter and said New Forest District Council’s discover “It became apparent that thousands of packs of medical aprons had been dumped on the land with no obvious signs that they were being protected or stored for some future use. The concern is that they have been dumped with no intention of removal to a proper facility. The EA have been contacted to see if they can determine where the PPE originated and whether it was discarded by a Health Trust as substandard during the Covid procurement.”
The Department for Health and Social Care accounts for 2020/21 show £673 million was spent on defective, unusable PPE that year and £4 billion on PPE that did not meet NHS standards. The cost of storing PPE at the time was reported to be £3.5 million per week.
Despite Hampshire County Council’s comments that the PPE had been dumped with “no obvious signs that they were being protected or stored for some future use”, the BBC have reported the PPE was being stored on the site on pallets and is due to be recycled into plastic bags over the coming weeks.
This matter does however serve as a useful reminder of the potential scale of some fly-tipping incidents. Aerial photos of Little Testwood Farm show a large area covered in the disposed-of PPE. In 2021/22, local authorities in England dealt with 1.09 million fly-tipping incidents. For large-scale fly-tipping (more than the lorry load), the Environment Agency are responsible for investigating, clearing and taking appropriate enforcement action, although it is normally the responsibility of the landowner to remove waste on private land.
The County Council are said to be trying to ascertain who the landowner is in this situation.
If convicted in the Crown Court, those responsible for fly-tipping can receive a sentence of up to five years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
High Court rules on the NSIP and TCPA regimes for solar farms
In Durham County Council & Anor v Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities  EWHC 1394, the court evaluated whether the application for a 49.9Mw solar farm via the TCPA regime in 2021 should be considered as extension of a contiguous solar farm that was granted permission via the NSIP regime in 2020.
The planning application was refused and, subsequently, appealed. However, the councils argued that the project was “functionally linked” to the 2020 permission as the projects had shared cables and substation, so, the project would amount to an NSIP, which is a matter that could only be determined by the Secretary of State. The appeal was adjourned.
The court held that both High Court and County Court are able to determine in “some circumstances” whether development consent was required for the project as an NSIP, instead of this power being exclusively reserved to the SoS. The court considered there were “powerful reasons” in this case as the case revolved around whether the project constituted or not an NSIP.
The court also held that the TCPA and NSIP are not mutually exclusive. Therefore, the LPA’s power to grant planning permission, and the inspector's jurisdiction to entertain the appeals, are not dependent on the projects not being an NSIP.
The court concluded that the 2021 application did not constitute an extension (thus not under the NSIP regime), because the projects constituted different "generating stations". To reach this conclusion, the court took into consideration that the projects: 1) were developed separately at different times, 2) had separate distribution and connection agreements, 3) the shared substation in reality consisted of two substations one for each project, and 4) the shared cables were to make the projects more efficient, not for interconnection.
The ruling allows the developers to resume their appeals before the inspector.
The end of environmental impact assessments (EIAs)
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (“LURB”) has within its sections, clauses and paragraphs a new environmental regime which will transform the current EIA process – this is said to deliver environmental outcomes rather than focusing on harm and impact. This will dovetail into the Environmental Improvement Plan, enabling the delivery of environmental priorities.
These are noble aims, but the current legislation is very light on detail, with several key amendments proposed by the Lords being removed time and time again by the commons. It seems the government may not like scrutiny of its environmental ambitions and achievements.
So, whilst the LURB doesn’t give much detail, the recently closed consultation at least gives us a glimpse of the current direction of travel with EOR’s – what it doesn’t tell us however is what an ‘outcome’ is, which may be fundamental to understanding the consultation.
What are the positives? Reduction in duplication, early stage in the development and plan making process, said to be delivering environmental outcomes by citing development in appropriate areas, looking at ‘outcomes’ rather than impact and harm which promotes good environmental management. There is a suggestion of researching reasonable alternatives – this might provide more resilience to the final decision which is made.
In contrast, what are the negatives? There is still uncertainty as to what the regime will look like and how this will be delivered. There is very little about the impact of climate change and a fly in the ointment might be the decision in the Finch case.
Read more about the government’s plans to replace EIAs here and take a look at our full EOR consultation in the link below.