Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

How UK planning policy will support carbon capture and storage infrastructure

Out-Law Analysis | 20 Sep 2021 | 1:07 pm | 5 min. read

The need for new carbon capture and storage (CCS) infrastructure has been acknowledged by the UK government and support illustrated for its development in proposed changes to planning policy.

CCS is one of the emerging technologies that the UK government has identified as central to its plans to reduce emissions associated with electricity generation and from energy intensive industries, and to provide negative emissions to offset sectors that are difficult to decarbonise.

The support for CCS stems from the government’s recognition that ‘net zero’ targets cannot be met by reducing carbon emissions alone. In the case of energy, both renewable “clean energy” is needed, along with the means by which to capture, transport and store carbon emissions.

Detail of the government’s approach to supporting CCS infrastructure in the years ahead are contained in a series of draft national policy statements for energy infrastructure – documents which, when finalised, will guide decision-makers when determining applications for development consent for nationally significant energy infrastructure under the Planning Act 2008 regime.

McDonald Nick

Nick McDonald

Partner

EN-1 is very clear that the barriers to CCS in the UK are commercial not technical, and to that end it recognises the importance of funding and incentivisation

The role for CCS

The overarching position for the energy market in the draft revisions to the overarching national policy statement for energy infrastructure (EN-1) is that there is an urgent need for a range of different types of new electricity infrastructure to deliver the government’s objectives of security, reliability and affordability of supply, whilst hitting net zero emissions in 2050. It is the need to both provide a dependable energy supply and achieve net zero, and the difficulties of doing both with renewable, or even low carbon energy alone, that drives the support for a wide range of energy infrastructure. 

EN-1 therefore continues to reflect the need for unabated natural gas-powered generating stations, noting that there may even be some limited use of unabated gas in 2050, for affordable reliability of energy supply. Any emissions from these are acknowledged to require offsetting through negative emissions from greenhouse gas removal technologies. This reflects that flexible generating capacity is required to fulfil the government’s energy objectives, yet there are barriers to gas-fired plants operating with CCS. In the case of fast-start peaking capacity, EN-1 acknowledges that the CCS technology is not currently suitable. 

The expectation is that, given the emissions from unabated natural gas, the role of those generating stations will be reduced over time, to be replaced with low carbon options including low carbon hydrogen and CCS as those technologies are developed. EN-1 notes the reliable low carbon generation that can be provided by gas-fired plant with CCS, referring to the ability to reduce emissions by 90% compared to unabated gas plants. 

While EN-1 focusses on gas generation with CCS, it recognises that bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) may have a role, providing either baseload or dispatchable low carbon generation, whilst delivering negative emissions to offset residual emissions. However, it is noted that use of BECCS may be constrained by the availability of a sustainable biomass fuel source. 

EN-1 is clear that CCS sits alongside a suite of other technologies, including low carbon hydrogen, referring to the government’s support for a twin track approach of developing both green hydrogen, which is produced through water electrolysis using low carbon power, and blue hydrogen, which is produced through methane reformation with CCS. 

Griffiths Richard

Richard Griffiths

Partner

 All carbon capture … is entirely dependent upon the infrastructure being in place for the transportation and storage of the carbon dioxide captured

CCS and decarbonisation

The other important role envisaged for CCS is as part of the decarbonisation of energy intensive industries. EN-1 refers to CCS as being fundamental in this respect, on its own or together with electrification and fuel switching. The ability of CCS to achieve negative emissions, for example from BECCS or other greenhouse gas removal technologies such as direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS), can also offset residual emissions from sectors such as aviation and agriculture where decarbonisation poses a significant challenge.

All carbon capture, whether linked to electricity generation, industrial emitters, or negative emissions technologies such as BECCS or DACCS, is entirely dependent upon the infrastructure being in place for the transportation and storage of the carbon dioxide captured.

EN-1 identifies the significant infrastructure needed to capture, transport and store carbon dioxide, referring to the ability to adapt existing networks as well as create new ones to facilitate transportation and storage. The draft revised policy identifies that natural gas infrastructure may potentially be repurposed for low carbon hydrogen or transportation of carbon dioxide. There is therefore an ongoing need identified for infrastructure to transport and store gas, beyond the use of natural gas generating stations. This feeds into one of the overarching themes of EN-1, which is the retention of unabated gas now, with the intention of retaining flexibility for how that gas generation and the associated infrastructure can evolve to support a low carbon energy mix.

Coleman Alexis

Alexis Coleman

Senior Associate

EN-1 requires that applications for development consent for power CCS projects include details of how the carbon dioxide will be transported and stored, assess environmental impacts cumulatively, and set out what other consents are required for the full chain

CCS and the DCO process

In terms of the consenting of CCS infrastructure, as most elements of CCS on their own are not expressly included within the definition of nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) within the Planning Act 2008, they will often fall outside the development consent order (DCO) regime. In those cases, to take advantage of the Planning Act consenting process, a Section 35 direction will be needed from the Secretary of State which puts the particular project into the NSIP regime. EN-1 helpfully acknowledges that where CCS infrastructure is not covered by the NSIP definitions and thresholds in the Planning Act 2008, and is the subject of a Section 35 direction, the Secretary of State should give substantial weight to the need for CCS established in EN-1, when considering whether to grant a DCO.

EN-1 also confirms that the carbon capture plant can be included within an application for development consent for a new CCS gas-fired generating station.

EN-4, which specifies the government’s proposed updated approach to gas supply infrastructure and gas and oil pipelines, confirms the legal position that new carbon dioxide pipelines over 10 miles long will be considered nationally significant infrastructure requiring a DCO under the Planning Act 2008, although the relevant principles for assessment of infrastructure as set out in EN-1 and EN-4 have not been amended to specifically consider CCS infrastructure.  

EN-1 helpfully reflects the reality that, given the cluster approach to transport and storage, a development consent application is unlikely to be seeking consent for the full CCS chain. EN-1 therefore requires that applications for development consent for power CCS projects include details of how the carbon dioxide will be transported and stored, assess environmental impacts cumulatively, and set out what other consents are required for the full chain.

Planning for the future

The government is also looking ahead and helping promoters to future-proof CCS infrastructure – its expectation is that for carbon dioxide pipelines, applicants may propose a capacity that exceeds current demand, taking into account foreseeable future demand as more emitters have the technology to capture their carbon and tap into the carbon dioxide gathering network. This is pragmatic, particularly in relation to the justification for the grant of compulsory acquisition powers needed to construct and operate the transportation pipeline.

EN-1 is very clear that the barriers to CCS in the UK are commercial not technical, and to that end it recognises the importance of funding and incentivisation. The government commits in the draft revised policy to putting in place key market interventions which are already in train – a commercial framework to finance power and industrial carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) facilities; introducing a business model for power CCUS with incentivised price signals; and incentivisation of industrial CCUS through a business model for industrial users.  EN-1 also makes reference to the government’s established commitment to support at least four CCS clusters by 2030. 

These measures underpin the support for CCS in the national policy statements and are critical building blocks if CCS is to be successfully realised in the UK.

Co-written by Alexis Coleman of Pinsent Masons.