On 27th October the House of Lords considered the Government’s Infrastructure Planning (Electricity Storage Facilities) Order 2020 in Grand Committee. The Bishop of Salisbury took part in the debate, highlighting the need for local authorities to be properly resourced to respond, and the value of microgeneration:
The Lord Bishop of Salisbury [V]: My Lords, this is not really my territory. I hesitate to come into this discussion but I will not delay noble Lords long. I note that the Delegated Legislation Committee in the other place dealt with this proposal in 13 minutes and, even then, the Minister commented on the widening of the discussion beyond the SI itself. That has already begun to happen in this discussion.
There seems to be little controversy surrounding the SI. The 2019 consultation drew 28 responses from industry, which were broadly supportive. However, is not the question that needs to be addressed on what additional funding will be given to local authorities to ensure that there is sufficient expertise and capacity for local planning officers to make fully informed decisions about these planning requests?
That is especially important, considering the technical nature of these planning proposals, which will not be spread evenly across the country. If the answer to that is in the fees charged for planning applications, how can we be sure that sufficient professional expertise is available to the local authority? How can we stop that being provided by consultants advising local authorities, which might be the very reason why this scale of project was seen as an NSIP?
Going a bit broader—I realise that this is trespassing—energy will be a key part of the Environment Bill. Members of the House understand the legislative pressures as we come to the end of the transition period for leaving the EU, but there will be little opportunity for the House to discuss that Bill when it eventually comes to us. Can the Minister ensure that we get on to ASAP?
Lastly, I want to echo some of the things that have already been said. One thing that we have learned during these strange times of Covid-19 is the importance of going local. Microgeneration is increasingly important. It does not necessarily depend on the national grid and is potentially much more flexible. We have lots of examples, but we need rapidly to generate more, from 93 solar panels on the roof of Salisbury Cathedral, and local community energy schemes, to micro hydro and the potential for electric vehicles to discharge into the grid. This is all highly regulated, so how is the development of microgeneration to be progressed more quickly so that we will be better able to live more sustainably with locally generated electricity?
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con) [Minister]…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury asked what additional funding will be given to local authorities. They already have experience of dealing with storage projects below 50 megawatts. We expect, with this legislation, to encourage projects to deploy at a larger scale rather than bring forward new projects. We are working with MHCLG to update the planning practice guidance to refer to storage. I will write to the right reverend Prelate on the possibility of future opportunities to discuss the Environment Bill. He also asked about support for rooftop solar generation; I will write to him with further detail on the actions that we are taking to support this.