The National Policy Statements will influence the development of a green economy in Britain and could accelerate progress towards greater energy security. Bottlenecks in the planning process have been extremely costly and prolonged in the past, as it has been necessary to debate national policy before large infrastructure projects could be consented. The NPSs offer an opportunity to state that policy clearly. If introduced correctly, the NPSs will help to make Britain an attractive place to invest in clean low carbon energy. However, if the NPSs are too cumbersome, or if they facilitate high carbon electricity generation, then they could make the goals of Britain's energy policy harder to achieve.
The revised draft National Policy Statements incorporate many of the changes proposed by our predecessor Committee, which examined the original draft last year. The process for consultation and debate, the thoroughness of the Assessments of Sustainability and the accuracy of the Government's assessment of the need for new energy infrastructure have all been improved. There are, however, a number of areas that need further work.
The Government's energy policy objectives are rightly ambitious. In order to cater for increasing energy demand, achieve the decarbonisation of the electricity sector by 2030 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050, the Department of Energy and Climate Change estimates that £200 billion must be invested in the energy sector by 2020. This is a huge and difficult challenge. The NPSs are intended to give confidence to investors and to expedite the planning process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects. This important new tier of planning policy must be coordinated with other policy developments in the energy sector. Accordingly we recommend that the NPSs are developed and designated alongside Electricity Market Reform and the design of the proposed National Planning Framework. If Britain is to achieve its energy aspirations, this must be a joined up process.
While we endorse the Coalition Government's new ratification process for the NPSs and the change to ministerial decision-making in consenting infrastructure projects, Ministers' decisions must be accountable. The process of ratification must allow the House of Commons to have a real say in the development of the NPSs. Accordingly, we propose a full day of debate on the suite of energy NPSs, with individual debates and votes on each one.
We consider that a mechanism is needed for more strategic spatial guidance in the development of nationally significant energy infrastructure. The Government rejected the suggestion for this made in our predecessors' Report. New capacity must be able to link up with sufficient transmission networks and both must be developed in a coherent manner which integrates environmental, social and economic concerns. For example, electricity generation needs to be able to connect to the grid and carbon capture and storage must have access to suitable geological storage sites. This is especially true given the large amount of new capacity and network infrastructure that will be needed in the next ten years. This guidance could be provided by the National Planning Framework. In addition, in order to control the visual impact of new energy network infrastructure, we propose a strengthening of the standing of the Holford Rules in the NPSs
It is absolutely crucial that NPSs encourage the right kind of investments. The "need case" for new capacity has been tightened in the revised draft NPSs, but there is little indication of the types of new capacity required. We are extremely concerned that this could lead to a second "dash for gas", as investors turn to this cheap and speedy option. This could delay or even marginalise the development of renewables and make it impossible to achieve our greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets by locking Britain into a fossil fuel dependent pathway for decades to come. The NPSs must explicitly require the Secretary of State to judge the need for new capacity on the basis of the capacity and kind of projects already consented, so that no more fossil fuel-based generation is consented than is strictly necessary. The level of investment necessary for the UK's energy infrastructure will entail big changes is our energy mix which will have significant implications for our natural landscape and the NPSs must mitigate the negative impacts of these changes as far as possible.