The five things we didn’t know about already in the Government’s new UK plan

The government’s energy security strategy released today seeks to turbocharge Britain’s energy system by stripping back planning rules and bolstering support for technologies such as nuclear and offshore wind. But it will also have real world impacts for the everyday consumer – and implications for energy bills.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. Planning rules will be simplified to make greening your home easier

Installing green technologies like a heat pump, double glazing, and rooftop solar is not a straightforward process at the moment due to England’s clunky planning system.

Rooftop solar does fall within what is known as ‘permitted development’, meaning most households do not need to get planning permission. But that only applies if your installation meets certain criteria, such as having a “minimal effect” on the external appearance of a building and the local area.

Meanwhile there are 10,000 conservation areas across England and 500,000 privately owned listed buildings across England and Wales. Residents of these homes often need planning permission for basic jobs such as replacing a window.

The government has promised to simplify this process to help make it easier for people to give their homes an energy. On rooftop solar, it has promised to “radically simplify” the planning process by consulting on relevant permitted development rights in the coming months. This might also include relaxing the planning barriers restricting the installation of heat pumps, i understands, which are currently subject to permitted development controls on where they can be sited on a property – a situation that leaves many homes otherwise suitable for a heat pump unable to progress to installation.

Ministers have also promised to look specifically at the plight of those in conservation areas and historic homes, promising a to launch a review by the end of this year looking at “the practical planning barriers that households can face when installing energy efficiency measures such as improved glazing, including in conservation areas and listed buildings”.

2. The government will give you energy advice

For households planning a home energy upgrade, it is often hard to know where to start. The government has promised to launch a “comprehensive energy advice service” this summer where households can request information and advice from government on energy efficiency measures. “We will launch additional support for homeowners through telephone support and specific local area advice for energy consumers,” the strategy says.

3. Ministers are keeping an “open mind” on fracking

Earlier this week the government launched a scientific review into the evidence surrounding shale gas extraction, or fracking as it is more commonly known. Essentially, ministers want to know whether industry can do anything to stop fracking causing minor earthquakes.

Those hoping for a firmer signal of support for fracking in the energy strategy will be disappointed. The document says only that the government is “open minded” about it. “Any exploration or development of shale gas would need to meet rigorous safety and environmental protection both above ground and sub-surface,” the document says.

4. Building new nuclear means more levies on energy bills

The Strategy confirms the government’s ambition to sign off on another nuclear power plant before the end of this Parliament. That is likely to be either Sizewell C in Suffolk, or Wylfa in North Wales.

But first ministers need to find a developer willing to take on such a complicated and expensive project. The plan is to use a new funding model called the Regulated Asset Base (RAB), where consumers start paying for the energy via levies on their energy bills while the power plant is being built.

This approach shares the risk of developing such a big project between consumers and developers, but does impose an extra cost on billpayers. The government says the RAB model will add less than £1 per month to bills during construction for each new power plant. Officials also insist investing in new nuclear power plants will save consumers in the long run.

5. Communities can club together for cheaper energy bills

The government stopped short of promising a change to planning rules for onshore wind in England, which has been effectively blocked since 2016, but the government has promised that local communities can win discounts on their energy bills if they can jointly support new wind farms in their area.

“We will not introduce wholesale changes to current planning regulations for onshore wind but will consult this year on developing local partnerships for a limited number of supportive communities who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for benefits, including lower energy bills,” the strategy reads. “The consultation will consider how clear support can be demonstrated by local communities, local authorities and MPs.”

The government is also floating the possibility that communities could win “benefits” for hosting electricity infrastructure like large substations. This could include cheaper bills or could be restricted to funding for improving the local area. A consultation later this year will thrash out the details.

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