Opinion

Aquind electricity interconnector delays hit FOUR YEARS

The farce sums up Britain's hopeless planning system
By
BizAge News Team
Aquind interconnector route

BizAge says: AQUIND Ltd wants to build an electricity cable from the UK to France. This will allow for easier import and export of power, to balance the grid.

It is an essential upgrade to the national insfrastructure.

The problem? AQUIND is still waiting for planning consent.

Worse, the local MP Penny Mordant, a Conservative, is hell bent on banning the interconnector, arguing construction would be disruptive to her sensitive constituents.

The tale encapsulates the lethargy and incompetence of the UK planning system.

Delays, delays, delays

By Johnny Stonborough, corporate communications for AQUIND

Aquind applied for the Development Consent Order for the £1.35bn AQUIND Interconnector ENERGY SUPER-HIGHWAY joining France and Great Britain on the 14th November 2019.

It is still pending four long years on.

Consent regimes have evolved into a labyrinth that discourage anyone from developing major energy transition infrastructure. Many energy projects besides AQUIND Interconnector have been affected by ever extending development consent order (DCO) timelines.

With the submission now at 1460 days and counting, AQUIND holds the unwanted unnecessary delay record. The previous being Norfolk Vanguard at 1326 days and Preesall Saltfield (underground gas storage) at 1324 days - both now finally granted their DCOs.

The original AQUIND DCO application was received by the Planning Inspectorate when Andrea Leadsom was SoS BEIS*. She was followed by Alok Sharma, Kwasi Kwarteng and by Jacob Rees-Mogg. Then BEIS became DESNZ under Grant Shapps and is currently headed by Secretary of State Claire Coutinho.

AQUIND had already spent five years investigating every aspect of the project even before submitting the DCO application. Development costs for this privately funded project are currently estimated at £67m and increasing every day.

Interconnectors like AQUIND are a vital part of the energy transition to NET ZERO, transporting renewable energy from where it is generated to where it is needed. Interconnectors make energy markets more efficient by connecting a greater number of electricity sources to the grid, potentially reducing consumers’ energy bills.

There are just over 6 years to meet the 2030 target to cut CO2 emissions by over two-thirds. AQUIND Interconnector could be saving a million tonnes of CO2 per year (equivalent to emissions from almost 600,000 fossil-fuelled cars).

As capital and construction costs become higher, delays mean the opportunity for the British public to avoid these emissions have been irrevocably lost, investments are not made, jobs are not created, the Treasury misses out on huge amounts of tax.’ Even with a DCO, Norfolk Boreas (Vattenfall’s 1.8GW offshore wind farm) withdrew last summer blaming delays and soaring costs quoted at £415m.

In the meantime, Aquind continues to work with their financial advisers, London Bridge Capital to secure the necessary equity and debt finance to fund the construction phase of the project. There has been significant interest expressed from a range of major institutional investors and project finance banks to invest in this infrastructure project.

With a construction timeline of about three years, the AQUIND Interconnector project could have broken ground, completed and returned the construction sites to their previous state quicker than its taking to get the planning permit.

Richard Glasspool, AQUIND’s Director says ‘I know we are not alone in the situation of interminable development delays – though sometimes it feels like it. It can be difficult not to feel frustrated at the opportunities missed; Energy cost-savings to consumers, tens of billions of vital infrastructure investments, and tens of thousands of jobs held back by needlessly long and cumbersome approval procedures, aggravated by delayed decisions. The government should be supporting private investment. Investors need to view the UK with confidence to deliver vital projects.’

Business Age has covered the AQUIND farce before. What will it take for the UK to make decisions about the future of its grid?

[*Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy was replaced in 2023 by Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, and Department for Business and Trade]

Time Line:

  • In 2014 AQUIND Ltd began to investigate bringing sustainable and reliable French nuclear energy to the UK.
  • 19 June 2018, AQUIND submitted a request to the SoS under Section 35 Planning Act 2008 that the AQUIND Interconnector be treated as a project of national significance requiring development consent (DCO)
  • 30 July 2018, the SoS confirmed the application met the legal requirements of a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP)
  • 14 November 2019 – The application for the Development Consent Order DCO submitted.
  • 12 December 2019. The Planning Inspectorate accepted the AQUIND Interconnector DCO application.
  • 8 June 2021 – The Independent Examining Authority issued recommendation to the SoS to grant the AQUIND Interconnector DCO.
  • 20 January 2022 Kwasi Kwarteng, then SoS for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) refused development consent for the project against the recommendation of the Examining Authority (ExA) of the Planning Authority.
  • March 2022 AQUIND sought permission for Judicial Review in the High Court
  • 24 January 2023 the decision to refuse development consent was quashed. The SoS (now DESNZ) had to re-determine the application.
  • 28 July 2023. The final deadline for comments from all parties
  • Present: Decision awaited from the Secretary of State for DESNZ

Written by
BizAge News Team
From our newsroom
November 16, 2023