The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has announced a new approach to the planning regulations for storage, exempting any storage projects over 50 MW from the national planning regime (with the exception of pumped hydro). For composite storage and generation sites, the storage element of the project will no longer be included in the national planning threshold.

The original plans, released in January 2019, were discussed with BEIS at the ESN’s planning working group and there was some concern that no significant change to the existing regime was being proposed.

Much of the discussion centred around the suitability of the 50 MW threshold separating the local and national planning regimes. Currently the same rules for generation apply to storage and thus any projects over 50 MW are subject to the national planning regime, despite battery storage projects having a small planning impact at that size, relative to generation projects of equivalent capacity. There was no agreement within the ESN on how to set that threshold, with acknowledgement that any threshold would require significant research and debate. This resulted in the ESN recommending that BEIS conduct further consultation and investigation into the need for storage to be included in the national planning regime.

As a result of these debates, the evidence given by the ESN and the recommendations in Regen’s report for the RTPI, BEIS has, unusually, changed policy direction and proposed to exempt storage from the national regime.

Robust standards and guidance needed

Whilst the move by BEIS is a positive one, projects of any size must be assessed according to robust standards throughout the local planning regime. During the consultation period, many ESN members highlighted that storage is still a relatively new technology for most planning officials and that awareness and guidance of the planning impacts of storage need to improve in order to assess the planning impacts of storage robustly and accurately.

We are pleased therefore to see BEIS commit to updating the Planning Practice Guidance specifically for storage. We would also highlight the guidance published by the Energy Institute (written by Anthony Price from Swanbarton) as an example of guidance that will provide planners the information they need to accurately assess applications.

It is not often that the government respond to industry pressure with such a radical change. It is thanks to the robust evidence and recommendations provided by the ESN, informed by the debates and discussions of members, that BEIS have taken this positive decision. We will be responding to the new consultation and welcome feedback from members on the specifics of the proposals.

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