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Harnessing Nature: How Biodiversity Net Gain Transforms Battery Energy Storage and Solar Planning Applications

Introduction


The concept of Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is reshaping how we approach development projects, emphasising the importance of enhancing, rather than simply mitigating, the impacts on biodiversity. As BNG becomes a mandatory requirement for all planning applications in the UK, its influence extends beyond conservation efforts to touch upon various sectors, including energy. In this blog, we delve into how the introduction of Biodiversity Net Gain for all planning applications will impact battery energy storage system (BESS) and solar planning applications, ushering in a new era of sustainable development and environmental stewardship.


Understanding Biodiversity Net Gain


Put simply, biodiversity net gain is an approach to development or land management that aims to leave the natural environment in a measurably better state than it was in prior to development.  Shorthand for ‘biological diversity’, biodiversity refers not just to animals but the variety of all living organisms including insects, plants, bacteria and fungi.


Therefore, the BNG rules exist to deliver measurable improvements for biodiversity by enhancing existing habitats or creating new ones. From February 2024 developers are required to deliver at least a 10% net gain in biodiversity as part of all large schemes in England, with the requirement also being implemented for small schemes from April 2024.


To find out more, read our recent feature here





Impact On Battery Energy Storage


Battery energy storage systems (BESS) are essential components of the transition to renewable energy, enabling the storage and utilization of excess energy generated from sources like solar and wind. With BNG becoming a mandatory requirement, BESS projects will need to incorporate biodiversity considerations into their planning and implementation processes.


One of the key impacts of BNG on BESS projects is the need to assess and mitigate any potential impacts on local ecosystems. This may involve conducting biodiversity surveys, identifying sensitive habitats or species, and implementing measures to minimize disturbance during construction and operation.


Furthermore, BNG presents opportunities for synergy between BESS and biodiversity conservation. For example, BESS installations can be co-located with pollinator-friendly habitats or designed to enhance wildlife corridors, providing additional ecosystem benefits alongside their primary function of energy storage.


Impact on Solar Planning Applications


As solar planning applications become subject to BNG requirements, developers will need to integrate biodiversity considerations into their project designs and site selection processes. One significant impact of BNG on solar planning is the emphasis on land use optimization and habitat preservation.


One way of tackling this would be the adoption of nature-based solutions in solar planning, such as agro-photovoltaic systems that combine solar panels with agricultural activities, or dual-use solar installations that provide shade for livestock grazing or native plant cultivation.

PWA Energy sought significant BNG gains on a solar scheme in Skeeby, North Yorkshire.


The 69.5-hectare site was used as agricultural land and benefited from a 118 per cent increase in biodiversity through the creation of grassland and a wildflower meadow.


Find out more about the scheme here


Challenges and Opportunities


While Biodiversity Net Gain presents numerous opportunities for integrating biodiversity conservation into energy projects, it also poses challenges that must be addressed. One such challenge is how, despite the standardised methodologies and metrics, each Local Planning Authority will be able to assess biodiversity impacts and calculate net gains with dwindling resources. Local authorities are under huge pressure, and this is a new policy requirement with which to contend. Local authority planners have previously reported a lack of confidence in dealing with biodiversity issues and there needs to be a significant investment in training and upskilling to help those at the sharp end of making BNG work.


Additionally, BNG may entail additional costs and complexities for developers, particularly in cases where biodiversity enhancements are required off-site or in compensation areas. However, these challenges also present opportunities for innovation and collaboration, driving the development of new technologies and approaches to biodiversity conservation.


Conclusion


The introduction of Biodiversity Net Gain for all planning applications represents a significant step forward in reconciling development with biodiversity conservation. For battery energy storage and solar planning applications, BNG presents both challenges and opportunities to integrate environmental considerations into project planning and implementation. 


By embracing the principles of Biodiversity Net Gain, developers can not only minimise their ecological footprint but also contribute to the restoration and enhancement of biodiversity at a landscape scale. Ultimately, the integration of biodiversity considerations into energy projects is essential for building a more sustainable and resilient future for both ecosystems and human communities.


Energy Planning – A Little Bit About Us


As the UK’s transition towards a net-zero carbon future continues to accelerate, PWA is proud to advise clients in the energy sector on making renewable energy projects a reality.


If you’re in the business of creating renewables projects and other sustainable energy developments, PWA’s dedicated energy planning team can help you achieve your goals.


Securing planning permission for renewable energy projects requires a deep understanding of planning law and the nuances of the renewables sector, such as the rapid advancements in technology and the ever-changing funding environment.


PWA has built up an impressive energy planning specialism, supporting clients in gaining planning consent for ambitious renewable energy projects across the UK.


Our portfolio includes energy projects from remote regions of the Scottish Highlands to developments in built-up, inner-city areas of London and the South East.


Our team of energy planning consultants has significant experience in helping sustainable energy providers and landowners gain planning consent for a wide range of renewable energy schemes, including wind, solar, energy storage, energy from waste and other specialist projects.


We have a genuine desire to help our clients make a difference through sustainable development, supporting them to create the vital energy infrastructure that can have a positive impact on our planet.


Visit us at Grid and Storage 2024 on Thursday 2nd May at IET, 2 Savoy Place, London WC2R 0BL or find out more here Energy Planning | PWA Planning


Written by Graeme Thorpe, BA (Hons) DipTP MRTPI, Assciate at PWA Planning


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