The government has published its response to the Electricity Network Commissioner’s report on accelerating electricity transmission network build-out. Regen’s Director Johnny Gowdy unpacks the key measures. 

Earlier this year, the UK’s Electricity Networks Commissioner published recommendations to government to accelerate the construction of major grid infrastructure to address the UK’s net zero and energy security objectives. The Transmission Acceleration Action Plan is the government’s response and, as expected, broadly accepted the recommendations.

The newspaper headlines will probably focus on the confirmation that individuals living close to transmission lines may enjoy lower bills, while hosting communities will also benefit. But other key aspects of the action plan will be of equal importance, including the development of a Strategic Spatial Energy Plan and the streamlining of the planning and regulatory processes.  The key area of weakness in the plan remains the supply chain and the need to secure cables and other critical electrical equipment as well as thousands of skilled engineers.

Highlights within the action plan include

  • The development of a Strategic Spatial Energy Plan (SSEP) for the GB, which the government says will “bridge the gap between government policy and infrastructure development plans. It will ultimately cover the whole energy system, land and sea, across Great Britain and will support the government in tandem with energy markets to determine the optimal location of energy infrastructure needed to transition to a greater supply of homegrown energy.” The delivery of the SSEP, which will be aligned with a Central Strategic Network Plan (CSNP) will be commissioned in 2024 to be delivered by the ESO.
  • The establishment of design standards, Electricity Transmission Design Principles (ETDP), to better standardise infrastructure and equipment design, to be clear with communities about where there are clear choices in decision-making and to speed up aspects of route design with automation. This will be tasked to a new working group of Electricity System Operator (ESO), Ofgem, devolved governments working with transmission operators.
  • Streamlining the regulatory approval process and removing regulatory approval from the critical path of projects, especially for those that have been identified as part of the Central Strategic Network Plan
  • A suite of reforms to planning processes including fast-track approvals, further work on land purchasing and updates to the National Policy Statements (in England and Wales) and the National Planning Framework (in Scotland).
  • Support for new proposals to provide both an electricity bill discount for properties located closest to transmission network infrastructure and a wider community benefit. More details are provided in the government’s response published today
  • Establishment of a supply chain forum and a review by Ofgem to support a more strategic long-term approach to supply chain engagement and will ensure this approach is enabled through strategic network planning and regulatory frameworks.

To oversee the implementation of the action plan the government plans to establish a ministerially-chaired Transmission Acceleration Forum which will convene industry CEOs, regulators and the ESO, alongside representatives of the devolved administrations, to track delivery of the actions set out in this plan, and to monitor the impact on delivery of transmission infrastructure.

As Regen said at the time of the publication of the Electricity Commissioner’s report, these are all very positive and necessary steps. The question is whether they will be sufficient to reduce lead time and secure the tens of billions in investment that are needed. A more proactive industrial strategy including a greater level of government intervention and investment may still be needed.

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