UK government opens consultation on large scale PV-plus-storage rules

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The U.K. Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) today opened a consultation on the treatment of electricity storage within the national planning system. According to the announcement, the consultation is part of its “Upgrading our energy system – smart systems and flexibility plan” ambition.

That policy comprises 29 action points which, if executed, should help integrate energy flexibility assets better into Britain’s infrastructure and energy markets. The government has previously stated more flexible solutions could mean savings of between £17 billion and £40 billion up to 2050.

The consultation opened today considers two areas that have proved contentious while reviewing the energy flexibility plan. One is: “Whether the level and unit of the 50 MW capacity threshold for non-wind onshore generating stations in the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime is appropriate for electricity storage.” The other concerns “clarification of how composite projects, consisting of storage and another form of generation, should be treated with regards to the NSIP capacity threshold”.

In the supporting documents for the consultation, BEIS said it does not believe the 50 MW capacity threshold – which ensures PV projects of that size and larger need special NSIP planning permission – poses a significant obstacle to storage developers. While permitting processes add costs for developers, they would be dwarfed by factors such as network connection and upfront capital costs and available revenue streams, according to BEIS.

The department reports, however, some stakeholders have said the process could overcomplicate regulatory systems for developers.

Government wants to keep 50 MW limit

The department says the U.K. has around around 3 GW of storage installed, most of it pumped hydro. The National Grid’s Future Energy Scenario forecast a significant uptake in electricity storage – of 12-29 GW – by 2050. The aim of the plan is to facilitate a level playing field for storage technologies and a ‘future proof’ regulatory framework.

The consultation paper proposes five options, which include ‘doing nothing’; providing non-legislative guidance; and changing the unit of the threshold from megawatts to megawatt-hours.

Those three options appear to have been discounted – by a department which has form in ignoring consultee responses – on the basis BEIS’ review indicates they would fail to increase investor confidence and provide legal clarity. The department does recognize raising the threshold would be disproportionate to the ends the policy aims to achieve, but has not discounted the option.

The government’s ‘preferred option’ would be to retain the 50 MW threshold for standalone projects but determine a new threshold for composite projects.

The consultation is open until March 25. Cynics may note that is a mere four days ahead of the day of Britain’s exit from the EU. BEIS can argue, however, it is proof it is carrying on with business in the face of accusations it has been distracted – along with the rest of the civil service – by Brexit.