Planning for hydrogen - will the system be a help or a hindrance?

The UK government’s Hydrogen Strategy, published in August 2021, confirms that developing a thriving low carbon hydrogen sector in the UK is a key plank of the government’s plan to build back better with a cleaner, greener energy system. 

The UK government’s Hydrogen Strategy, published in August 2021, confirms that developing a thriving low carbon hydrogen sector in the UK is a key plank of the government’s plan to build back better with a cleaner, greener energy system.

The government’s ambition is for five gigawatts of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 for use across the economy. Hydrogen is considered one of a handful of new, low carbon solutions that will be critical for the UK’s transition to net zero and for securing its Sixth Carbon Budget commitment.

The government is taking a ‘whole-system’ approach to developing a UK hydrogen economy which is underpinned by a ‘roadmap’ for the 2020s. The road map embodies the government’s vision for how the hydrogen economy will develop and scale up over the course of the decade and into the 2030s, and sets out the requisite building blocks to enable this. The planning system and associated permitting regimes form part of the regulatory frameworks which underpin the roadmap, and which need to be in place and operating effectively in order for the government’s vision to be delivered.

The evolution of the hydrogen economy over the course of the next decade, as envisaged by the 2020s roadmap, is dependent upon a number of barriers across what the government is calling the ‘value chain’ being overcome, especially in the early phases of market development. Policy and regulatory uncertainty is considered a strategic challenge which must be tackled in order to produce and use hydrogen at scale in the UK. So how should the planning system respond?

The government published its ‘Planning for new energy infrastructure: review of energy National Policy Statements’ consultation on 6 September 2021. The consultation is seeking views on the revised energy National Policy Statements (NPS) that support decisions on major energy infrastructure and will close on 29 November 2021. Under the consultation proposals, hydrogen infrastructure, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and other forms of low carbon generation will not have (as is the case now) their own technology specific NPS. It is proposed that the revised Overarching Energy NPS (EN-1) will have effect in respect of these types of infrastructure and will be the primary basis for the Secretary of State’s decision making for projects promoted to deliver such infrastructure.

Draft EN-1 acknowledges that there is an urgent need for all types of low carbon hydrogen infrastructure to allow hydrogen to play its role in the transition to net zero. New hydrogen pipelines and underground storage for hydrogen will require consent from the Secretary of State where they meet the definitions in sections 15-21 of the Planning Act 2008; so, the 50 megawatts (MW) generating station development consent order (DCO) threshold will apply. The challenges this has posed for solar developments which meet the more than 50MW threshold, but which are not very large scale, are well-known as the viability of these projects can be put under considerable pressure when determination is via the DCO regime.

In its Hydrogen Strategy, the government accepts that hydrogen is a nascent market and area of energy policy such that complexities in the regulatory framework, including the planning system, and factors which may render project delivery uncertain or undermine development viability have the potential to deter investment in the technology. This begs the question whether the government should be bolder and, via its consultation proposals in respect of the energy NPS review, pose more radical questions aimed at exploring whether hydrogen production should be brought into the DCO regime at all and, if the prevailing view is yes, then at what scale?

If there is a genuine desire for the planning system to support new and developing forms of energy infrastructure that are vital for our transition to net zero, including low carbon hydrogen, the question must be asked whether the current system is fit for purpose or whether a more fundamental review is required? If the government is to deliver on its 2030 ambition, it must get the building blocks of the 2020s roadmap right. Otherwise, the government’s ‘whole-system’ approach to creating a UK hydrogen economy risks developing a flaw which may prove fatal to its success.


This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



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