Balance Power is a leading, independent UK energy project developer, specialising in solar, battery storage and peaking technologies, balancing the UK’s evolving power needs with innovative, clean energy solutions.


I am submitting evidence to the committee as an expert in the energy development field. I see first-hand the impact of logjams in the planning process, which cause delays to the roll out of energy projects nationwide. 


The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine will only exasperate these issues, as the UK energy supply is threatened and wholesale energy prices continue to rise. It is more important than ever to protect the stability of the grid with more home-grown renewable energy.


Is the Government’s energy strategy delivering investment in an energy supply that is resilient, affordable and in line with achieving net zero emissions? If not, what should be done?


Changes to policy


The overarching government policy for a clean, homegrown energy system, indeed, has the potential to deliver net zero goals by 2035. However, market conditions have been created whereby investors, banks, and energy companies are all desperate for more renewable energy and storage assets, but the development of projects isn’t matching this demand.


At present, one of the biggest on-the-ground barriers to the increased rollout of energy projects is the disconnect between national policy and where local power lies, which creates unnecessary delays.


Developers like us are responsible for securing suitable land, grid connections, and planning permission for the energy projects of the future. Before applying for permission on a project we do our due diligence, working together with qualified local planners and experts to meet the requirements of the planning system, ensuring there are no objections from all of the statutory consultees. Planning departments will then recommend for approval as there is no reason to refuse. This recommendation, however, is then referred to a planning committee where the final decision is made by local councillors, who more often than not, have no background in energy or understanding of the impact. The issue with the current process, which is slowing down the drive to net zero, is that while there is a broad acceptance of how urgently we need to tackle the climate emergency, there is a lack of understanding among the public and local leaders about how we will practically decarbonise the grid and achieve net zero in the available timeframe.


Balance Power has analysed data from the Renewable Energy Planning Database quarterly extract which shows that during January 2019 to October 2021, the ‘climate era’, only 40% of applications for renewable energy and battery storage projects were approved by local councils. With less than half of all proposed projects making it through the planning application process in the last few years, there will be a devastating knock-on effect on reaching net zero.  


This hasn’t just been a problem in the last couple of years. Analysis of data on planning applications from June 2010 to October 2021 shows that although 61% of projects were approved, 11% were granted following an often-lengthy appeal, delaying the process significantly. 


Furthermore, 25% of the applications during this time were listed as ‘undetermined’, rising to 65%, around the peak in awareness of the climate crisis, during the ‘climate era’. This demonstrates the disconnect between knowledge of the climate crisis and acceptance that we need more energy projects to get us there. Additionally, this will have a detrimental effect on the Government’s strategy, and increase the backlog of applications, further slowing down the much-needed rollout of energy projects.


There is a lack of understanding among many local authorities that clean, affordable, reliable energy happens at a local level, rather than at national level. But there are things we can do at both the national and local level to accelerate the process, such as removing planning logjams.


If climate change and achieving net zero really is the greatest challenge of our time, it’s time to change the planning system. We urge the government to allow planning permission for energy projects to be decided only by planning departments, after consulting with all statutory consultees who are experts in their individual areas in the local authority. It’s people like these consultants who understand the link between connecting more renewable and clean energy sources to the grid and the wider benefits for communities and the overarching net zero goals. Currently, the inevitable win at planning appeal is a shallow victory, given the time and cost to ourselves and the environment. Fundamentally, it is reducing the prospect of success for the net zero transition. 


The role of other types of energy


There’s a distraction around different types of energy, which is also delaying connecting renewable projects to the grid. A harsh reality is oil and gas are still vitally important in the short term. The success of the transition to net zero is grounded on the public’s relationship with energy not changing. They need to continue to feel that the power they live on is available on demand and is affordable.


New technologies that are under development, such as the recent Hydrogen Strategy seems, at best, counterintuitive without relevant context to the public and, critically, local authorities. To focus on new technology which, as it stands, is not currently helping us today on our way to net zero, distracts from the reality that these technologies will only play their part in the future, they’re not ready and won’t be for some time.


Many of the public and local authorities oppose solar, wind, BESS and gas peaking projects, saying that they don’t need to give planning permission as hydrogen will solve the problems with the energy system. What they might not realise is that hydrogen is an answer for 2035-2050, not a viable reality in the short term.


Investment for the transition


There is already sufficient private capital available across wind, solar and BESS. The second critical issue is that it will require a monumental investment at DNO/National grid level to accommodate the projects on the network that private capital are willing to build. The government needs to quickly invest in the physical network to accommodate new projects. There has been a surge in planning/grid applications which gives a false sense of progress, but without necessary reinforcement, the timeline to actually have these projects connected and exporting power is spread over the next 10 years.


10 March 2022