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New energy plans disputed by Oxford academic

Energy National Policy Statements (NPSs ) have been slammed as “incoherent”, “amazingly complicated”, “badly written” and wide open to judicial review by a leading energy expert last week.

Oxford University professor of energy policy Dieter Helm said the new system of NPSs that will inform the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) was too complex and a shake-up of the existing planning system would have been more effective.

“The idea here is an extremely good and clear one − that government will have an energy policy, but this is only as good as it is consistent, coherent, clear and deliverable,” Helm told the Energy and Climate Change Committee of MPs.

Instead, the energy NPSs are “incoherent, badly written and some of the English is simply wrong”, he said.

“The energy NPSs are incoherent, badly written and some of the English is simply wrong.”

Helm added that as legal documents, the minimum requirement should have been that statements were consistent. Instead, a separate policy had been developed for each technology, he said.

“We have a Renewable Obligation for renewables, but not for nuclear or carbon capture and storage (CCS). We have a CCS levy in the [draft Energy] Bill but no carbon tax in respect to nuclear or renewables.

“This opens the thing wide open to the possibility that it does not add up, which in my view it doesn’t,” he said.

Helm said the entire NPS approach was overly complicated and that a much simpler alternative could be to fast-track the whole planning system.

“You could have implemented a guillotine on the existing regime. There is nothing in this regime which in itself is required to speed up the process,” he said.

“We have a Renewable Obligation for renewables, but not for nuclear or carbon capture and storage”

He proposed an alternative regime to solve the problems of both planning and CO2 emissions at a stroke. “I would have a common low-carbon obligation,” he said, to avoid preferences for a particular technology.

Helm said this would do away with the “incredibly complicated” structure that has been formed with the NPSs.

He added that NPSs do not have a democratic endorsement, and can be withdrawn at any time. This uncertainty could discourage investment.

Helm also warned that the NPSs would be too easily changed by government ministers.

“It would not surprise me if these documents are changed quickly and regularly,” he said.

Readers' comments (1)

  • If these concerns are well-founded the consequences for development of our energy infrastructure could be very significant.
    Can NCE investigate further, by talking to policy-makers, developers and planners about the issues raised?

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