MEP Helps Streamline Welsh Marine Energy Consenting Process

An industry led sub-group of Marine Energy Pembrokeshire (MEP) has recently provided recommendations to assist Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Welsh Government in streamlining the marine energy consenting process in Wales.

All marine renewable energy developments take place within a formal planning procedure which considers the impact of a new project on the environment and the community. Whilst the imperative to develop sustainable marine energy is clear, industry feel that the marine energy planning system in Wales could be streamlined using best practice from across the UK.

In 2014, a consenting subgroup was established with the primary aim of reviewing consenting on a UK level and providing recommendations to NRW and Welsh Government on how Wales can support the sector in aiming to reduce project risk, increase the rate of project deployment and ultimately, support the Welsh Government’s commitment to ‘unlocking the energy in our seas’.

The consenting subgroup, led by MEP, an organisation supporting the development of the wave and tidal industry in Wales, contains representatives from industry who have experience in the consenting process in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, along with NRW, Welsh Government and The Crown Estate.

David Jones, Project Director at MEP: “We welcome the collaborative approach from Welsh Government and NRW in engaging with MEP and industry. Having representatives from the NRW Marine Licensing Team and Advisory team together with Welsh Government as part of the consenting sub-group is very positive from an industry perspective. Welsh Government and NRW have a key role to play in enabling the consenting process to be as efficient as possible and we look forward to working together in the future with the aim of simplifying the process, facilitating earlier consenting decisions and making Wales even more attractive to industry.”

Following work carried out by the industry members of this group, a ‘Welsh Marine Energy Consenting Recommendations paper’ has recently been provided to NRW and Welsh Government. The paper proposes a list of 7 key recommendations for streamlining the marine renewables planning process ranging from the imperative for increased resourcing, the identification and production of ‘best practice’ guidance to assist developers, and the provision of clarity to developers though a consenting framework with timescales.

Richard Siddons, Head of Technical Services and Customer Care, at Natural Resources Wales said: “We want to thank Marine Energy Pembrokeshire for their recommendations on possible improvements to how we do things. We will continue to work closely with MEP, Welsh Government and other partners to make sure the marine consenting process is as efficient as possible for businesses, while making sure we protect our fantastic seas for their marine life, as well as for other sea users.”

One of the key recommendations proposed by MEP is that Welsh Government should adopt a policy to enable NRW to take a more risk-based, proportionate approach to consenting for marine renewable energy projects.

Scottish Government has developed a ‘survey, deploy and monitor’ policy, which aims to speed up deployment based on the likely ‘risk’ of a development, according to the environmental sensitivity of the location, and the scale and type of device/s being deployed. In practice, this approach means that whilst most Environmental Impact Assessments require at least two years’ data on marine wildlife at a particular site, where the environmental risk is low, a project could proceed with reduced survey requirement, thus enabling smaller, early stage and shorter-term projects to progress without being restricted by a high level of uncertainty and therefore precaution.

Crucially, MEP believe that both the Marine Licensing Team and Advisory Section of NRW will be critical in delivering the ambitions of industry in the coming years and that adequate resourcing will assist in the expected increase of marine energy projects in Wales. NRW are responsible for providing statutory advice, awarding Marine Licences and are active members of MEP engaging with industry through the working groups.

The marine energy sector represents a once in a generation opportunity to secure a new, predictable low carbon economy that will help deliver economic growth, energy security and diversity and assist in meeting important climate change targets.

With €100.4 million of EU structural funding prioritised for marine energy in Wales, two Demonstration Zones, seabed agreements in place for 4 separate wave and tidal projects and a number of proposals for tidal range projects, Wales has the potential to be a world-leader in the marine energy market – as a significant generator and, just as importantly, as an exporter of marine energy knowledge, technologies and services.

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