Carbon budget set to boost sustainable energy schemes

Published August 8th, 2016

The new government carbon emission limits could have significant implications for planning,

The key points are:

  • The Fifth Carbon Budget aims to cut emissions by 57 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030.
  • To meet the target, the UK will have to reduce carbon emissions from power, transport and buildings.
  • Local authorities may be encouraged to approve more onshore wind and solar schemes. The budget also calls for more district heat networks.

Q How does the UK aim to limit carbon emissions?

In 2008, Parliament introduced the Climate Change Act., it established a legally binding target to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. The act introduced a system of carbon budgets to be produced in successive five-year periods that are designed to help meet the target by providing legally binding limits on emissions. The recent vote to leave the EU does not change this commitment.

Q What does the Fifth Carbon Budget say?

A The budget sets a target for emission cuts of 57 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030. This figure was recommended last autumn by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which advises the government on the issue. The House of Lords passed the Carbon Budget Order 2016 on 19 July, making the budget and its target law. A bill to abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and absorb its functions, including the CCC, into the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, was passed in early July.

Q What are the budget’s implications for planning?

The UK will have to cut carbon emissions, including those from power, transport and buildings. The introduction of low-carbon generation from renewables and nuclear power would help generate big savings in emissions. Therefore we are likely to see more applications for onshore wind and solar power schemes on low value sites, and increased pressure on local authorities to approve such schemes. This may require greater weight to be given to the national need for sustainable energy, and less to the impact of the schemes on local communities. The budget predicts greater use of district heat networks, which supply heat to homes, businesses and schools through insulated hot water pipes heated by a central power source. These cut emissions by removing the need for each building to have its own boiler or gas supply. The local scale of such networks make them a key area in which councils can lead policy by relaxing planning rules for such systems. We may also see more development consent order (DCO) applications for major infrastructure schemes such as pipes and cables to facilitate the roll-out of heat networks. A relaxation of the planning regime to support such projects without requiring a DCO application may also encourage their spread. Applicants promoting low-carbon schemes or heat networks may increasingly cite compatibility with the Fifth Carbon Budget as a material consideration when demonstrating sustainable development under the National Planning Policy Framework. It remains uncertain how the budget’s goals will be implemented, but the government is likely to clarify this before the end of the year. In the meantime, the CCC has recommended some policy development priorities to help meet the targets. These include enabling mature low carbon energy sources, such as wind and solar farms, to come forward, increasing uptake of low carbon heating and electric vehicles and restricting new investment in energy to low carbon schemes from 2020 onwards.

Q How will the budget shape future development?

Emissions can be reduced by shifting from conventional coal- and gas-fired power generation to nuclear and renewable sources and new technologies such as carbon capture and storage. Encouraging a focus on developing heat networks and ensuring that all current and future developments can connect to one will also contribute. Heating demand from buildings accounts for a significant amount of emissions in the construction sector. To reduce this, greater investment from the industry in an uptake of low-carbon technologies and behaviours – such as insulation improvement and the installation of combined boilers and heat pumps – is expected. But with the end of the Zero Carbon Homes target and Green Deal loans, it is unclear where government support for this would come from.

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