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13 January 2017

737: Tidal lagoons get backing as delayed pipeline decided

Today’s entry reports on the outcome of the Hendry review and the decision on the Yorks & Humber CCS Pipeline application.

Hendry review

One nationally significant infrastructure project consisting of a tidal lagoon has so far been given consent, to be built in Swansea Bay.

The Government appeared to hesitate about endorsing it and commissioned Charles Hendry, former energy minister, to review tidal lagoons generally. His report came out yesterday and can be found here (on WordPress).

The report is an enthusiastic endorsement of tidal lagoons. It’s quite long, at 183 pages, and even the conclusions and recommendations run to 19 pages. Dear report writers, please could you number your paragraphs so that people like me can refer to them easily. Thanks.

He concludes that the Swansea Bay project is an electricity project (duh, you might think, but it does have other benefits too, eg tourism and regeneration, and it affects sources of funding – see second paragraph under box on page 37).

He suggests there should be a ‘pathfinder project’, and the Swansea Bay one would be the obvious choice, but its value for money was outside the scope of his review so he couldn’t say that for sure. He concludes that the pathfinder project should be operational for some time before any larger projects reach financial close (although that would be later than getting development consent), which runs somewhat counter to the theme of urgency running through the rest of the report.

Later projects should be subject to a contracts for difference style competition to develop them, but with some sort of guarantee that competition winners progressed with the project or lost the right to pursue it. It’s not clear if a development consent order (DCO) would already have been obtained at that point at the risk of not winning the competition.

He recommends a UK summit on tidal lagoons, hosted by the new Department for International Trade, and the creation of a Tidal Power Authority, albeit without planning powers.

Of Planning Act 2008 interest, he says it is ‘unarguable’ (presumably in the sense of cannot be argued against, rather than for) that there should be a National Policy Statement for tidal lagoons (implying a stand-alone one, rather than as part of a more general renewable energy one). He also says it should recommend suitable locations for lagoons like the nuclear power one but unlike any other energy one. Then, oddly, he says that the Swansea Bay project should be excluded from ‘this NPS approach’, even though it is already consented and therefore the relevance of the NPS has passed.

Yorks & Humber CCS project

Also yesterday, the government finally issued its much-delayed decision on the Yorks & Humber CCS (carbon capture and storage) project. The decision was not unexpectedly a refusal, and the decision letter can be found here.

This is by far the longest decision to have been made under the Planning Act 2008 (I mean longest in time rather than the longest letter). All but three have been made within the statutory three months. The Hornsea Two Offshore wind farm was two months late, the Able Marine Energy Park was seven months late, this one is 14 months late. It has therefore added a week to the average time for all DCO decisions. I await the statement in Parliament authorising the delay, which is currently only authorised until 31 August 2016.

The inspectors recommended it be given consent, but the government has eventually disagreed with this, pretty much solely because of its own withdrawal of funding support for carbon capture and storage in November 2015, which caused the refusal of the main project this pipeline would have served, the White Rose power station.

Although the promoter suggested other projects that could use the pipeline and the general utility of having this project as a backbone for future development, the government concluded that as a ‘reasonable likelihood’ of particular projects coming forward had not been demonstrated (which the promoter could hardly do, as they weren’t its projects), consent should not be given.

The decision letter goes on to say that the case for compulsory acquisition is not made out, but that’s really the same argument.

This is the fifth development consent order (DCO) to be refused, although one was subsequently granted after the refusal was successfully overturned in court. Counting that as a positive decision, the score is 58 positive and four negative decisions or a 93.5% success rate.

Of the refusals, only one was recommended for refusal by the inspector(s), as well as another that was granted by the government, so the inspectors have issued 60 positive decisions and two negative ones.

The next decision is due by 11 February, for the North London Heat and Power Project.