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Britain Also Needs Permitting Reform

The decarbonization of maritime vessels is key to Britain’s achievement of net-zero emissions by 2050—but long wait times for grid connections and planning challenges are jeopardizing that goal (Reuters, subscription).

What’s going on: “Domestic maritime vessels represented around 5% of Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions from transport in 2020, more than rail and buses combined, the government said in a 2022 report,” but interviews with power company workers, investors and staff of British ferry operator Wightlink found that “millions of pounds of green transport investment [are] at risk.”

  • Wightlink wants to order an electric ferry to reduce the carbon footprint of its crossings between England’s southern coast and the Isle of Wight, and it has funding in place.
  • However, the network operator for the region said a new terminal connection would require infrastructure upgrades not scheduled for completion until 2037.

Why it’s important: Following inquiries by Reuters, the network operator said “enough power may be available” without the upgrades and that it would meet with the ferry company. But “Wightlink’s dilemma underscores the challenge Britain’s next government will face in delivering the renewable energy and grid infrastructure needed to power a shift to electric ferries, cars and domestic heating in Europe’s second-largest economy.”

  • Britain—the first major economy to impose a legally binding 2050 net-zero target—is set to hold a general election July 4.

​​​​​​​What needs to be done: “To hit net zero, Britain needs to expand the high-voltage network in England and Wales carried overhead on large pylons, which then connect to regional distribution networks.” But the price tag promises to be high.

  • What’s more, Britain’s grid was built to transmit power generated from coal fields in areas such as Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, not the wind farms of Scotland and Britain’s east coast, where power increasingly originates. More infrastructure is needed to bring that power to London and elsewhere in the south.

A permitting problem: Compounding the issue is a national permitting system that, like the system in the U.S., is in dire need of reform.

  • “The time it takes to secure consent for large-scale projects like wind farms has increased by 65% since 2012, stretching to 4.2 years, according to a government-requested report by the National Infrastructure Commission in 2023.” 
  • And long judicial reviews are pushing up costs, threatening investments.
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