NPF4: Energy for electricity and heat

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SPICe is producing a series of blogs on the Draft Fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4), which provides a statutory strategy and framework for land use out to Scotland’s net zero target year of 2045.

SPICe Blog on NPF4: Mainstreaming Climate Change? considers the National Spatial Strategy, which sets out overarching principles and a vision for sustainable, liveable, productive and distinctive places, and the 18 National Developments supporting delivery.

This blog summarises proposed National Planning Policy relevant to delivering decarbonised heat and electricity; in particular Policy 11: Heating and Cooling, and Policy 19: Green Energy.

Energy matters …

The Scottish Government’s Energy Strategy, originally published in 2017, sets out its vision for the energy system in Scotland to 2050. It considers both the use and supply of energy for heat, power and transport, and has three core themes:

  • A whole system view: examining where energy comes from and how it is used – for power (electricity), heat and transport.
  • An inclusive energy transition: a “just transition” to tackle inequality and poverty, and to promote a fair and inclusive jobs market.
  • A smarter local energy model: a more coordinated approach to planning and meeting distinct local needs.

A “refreshed” Energy Strategy is expected in 2022.

Key current consultations on devolved energy policy include:

The Scottish Government’s target to generate the equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s own electricity demand from renewables by 2020 was narrowly missed (98.6%), rising from 89.8% in 2019. For heat, the target to deliver 11% of non-electrical heat demand from renewables was also missed, with 6.3%of fuels (besides electricity) consumed for heat, the same as in 2019.

It is of course not just specific policies and targets that will drive energy efficiency measures and increased renewable energy production and consumption. As noted in the SPICe Blog on NPF4: Mainstreaming Climate Change? to address the climate emergency, there is a need for a systemic change to all aspects of commercial, public and private life, and the framework for land-use planning is fundamental to supporting and achieving the necessary behaviour change.

Universal policies

Alongside specific policies for energy and other matters, Draft NPF4 states:

To achieve a net zero, nature-positive Scotland, we must rebalance our planning system so that climate change and nature recovery are the primary guiding principles for all our plans and all our decisions. That includes emissions reduction and the adaptations we need to make in order to be resilient to the risks created by a warmer climate. It also means ensuring that our approach to planning is designed to help Scotland’s biodiversity and better connect our biodiversity rich areas, and to invest in nature-based solutions, benefiting people and nature.

Six “Universal Policies” are set out, which should apply to all planning decisions. Managing the use and development of land in the long-term public interest, the climate and nature emergencies, human rights and equality, addressing community wealth building, and designing development proposals to a high quality are therefore expected to be at the heart of the planning system.

Policy 11: Heating and cooling

Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies (LHEES) aim to set out the long-term plan for decarbonising heat in buildings and improving their energy efficiency across an entire local authority area. When allocating land, local development plans are expected to take LHEES, and the potential for, or designation of, any heat network into account. Sometimes called district heating, a heat network is a distribution system of insulated pipes taking heat from a central source to multiple properties.

The role for heat networks should therefore feature highly in proposed (and retrofit) developments, with support given where connections to existing heat networks, or design for the cost-effective later connection for planned networks are integrated. If a development proposal does not demonstrate an effective solution to connecting to a heat network, it should provide an alternative low or zero emissions heating system.

Waste or surplus heat from national or major developments should be co-located in areas of heat demand, with a clear demonstration of how recovered energy would be used.

There is a presumption against domestic biomass systems where heat networks are available.

Repurposing former fossil fuel infrastructure is supported where it produces and handles low carbon energy – in particular, where a plant generates surplus heat and can be linked to an existing or planned heat network.

Policy 19: Green energy

Overall, this policy will require local development plans to seek to achieve an area’s full potential for electricity and heat from renewable sources. In principle, support should be given all forms of renewable energy and low-carbon fuels including extensions and repowering of existing plant.

Proposals for wind farms in National Parks and National Scenic Areas will not be supported. Outwith these areas, development proposals for new, repowered, extended and expanded wind farms should be supported unless the impacts identified (including cumulative effects), are considered to be unacceptable. These sites should be suitable for use in perpetuity, if they are sited and designed to minimise impacts for adjacent communities.

Small scale renewables should be supported.

Major applications for energy generation from low carbon sources, for manufacturing or industrial developments should be accompanied by a strategy to demonstrate how emissions from the process will be decarbonised. Negative emissions technologies and carbon capture are supported in principle.

Proposals for solar arrays (a series of linked panels) should be supported where there are no adverse effects e.g. to amenity, road safety or the historic environment.

Specific considerations are set out which development proposals for renewable energy developments must take into account, including:

  • economic impact, including local and community socio-economic benefits
  • renewable energy generation and emissions reduction targets
  • cumulative impacts of existing and consented energy development
  • landscape and visual impacts, and impacts on communities and individual dwellings e.g. visual, noise and shadow flicker
  • effects and impacts on natural heritage, carbon rich soils, hydrology, the water environment and flood risk
  • impacts on the historic environment, tourism and recreation, and public access
  • impacts on aviation and defence, and on telecommunications and broadcasting
  • decommissioning, site restoration, and opportunities for energy storage.

Interpreting the policies

How these policies will be integrated into local development plans and how they will guide the decisions of planning authorities, officers and councillors remains to be seen. Other policies, for example Policy 28: Historic Assets and Places, and Policy 32: Natural Places are equally strong in their support for protecting and enhancing these areas. Therefore, an application for a heat network in an historic town centre, double glazing in a listed building, or a remote community owned small-scale hydro scheme in a designated area may be assessed differently depending on where it is.

Alasdair Reid, Senior Researcher

Climate Change, Energy, and Land Reform