For now it remains difficult to predict specific policy changes for solar. What will likely be needed is a change in political style, and an increased willingness to have difficult conversations about the necessary trade-offs to match climate rhetoric with action.

As the current front runner and one of the first to trigger the swathe of resignations from Boris Johnson’s government last week, the closing words of Rishi Sunak’s letter to the Prime Minister will surely be ringing in the collective ears of the Conservative Party over the months to come. ‘I firmly believe the public are ready to hear the truth. Our people know that if something is too good to be true then it’s not true’.

This it seems will become the lasting epitaph of the outgoing Johnson administration. He never was a prime minister well suited to delivering hard truths. As in most other areas, his government’s record on solar development was indicative of this.

For three years Johnson’s style of government has run on big announcements and ambitious-sounding headlines. As a populist in the truest sense of the word, he’s been able to capture people’s imaginations in order to win. What has more often been lacking though is a willingness to have the difficult but honest conversations with the public and Conservative Party base about the trade-offs required to deliver real change that meets rhetoric, particularly when it comes to the climate crisis.

Under Johnson the Government to its credit has set an ambitious target for an additional 56GW of solar capacity by 2035. This has led to a conversation in the country and within the Conservative Party that is largely focused on rooftop vs large scale solar, and the associated impacts real and perceived of nationally significant solar projects on communities and the local environment.

It is undeniable that the UK will need a mixture of types of solar development to achieve its net zero aims. In the long run however, nationally significant solar projects will be essential if the UK is to successfully phase out coal, oil, gas and over-reliance on energy imports at the scale and pace required to hit net zero.

Copper undertakes regular public attitudes and political research to understand sentiment towards both infrastructure projects and the consultation process. Our Attitudes to Solar Energy report in collaboration with Solar Energy UK earlier this year highlighted that nationally only 25% of people oppose solar schemes in their area, as opposed to 56% who overtly support them. This perhaps explains the populist appeal of solar ambitions in the country at large.

To date only two nationally significant solar projects have been consented. Neither have yet been fully constructed. With a growing wave of even larger-scale solar projects coming through the development pipeline in UK, what there has been however is an equally large groundswell of opposition to these among the grassroots of the Conservative Party and their backbench MPs.

Following the Conservative Party leadership contest, a general election this calendar year now seems unlikely. The new leader will inherit Johnson’s 80 seat Conservative majority and a mandate to continue to deliver on the party’s 2019 manifesto, with few expecting major changes to topline energy policy of achieving net zero by 2050 and the targets set out in the British Energy Security Strategy earlier this year.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is still due to respond to its November 2021 consultation on the first, long awaited changes to the energy national policy statements since 2011. Further consultation is also due on strengthening planning rules in favour of solar development on non-protected land.

With the long parliamentary summer recess and the outcome of the leadership contest still ahead of us, it is difficult to predict specific policy changes for the time being. What is likely however is that whoever the next Prime Minister is, Johnson’s departure will surely mark a change in the tone and style of government more than anything. What is needed now is a move beyond the headline-grabbing national targets of the Johnson era. In its place what developers now need is more detail-oriented leadership and a legal and policy framework that can give them the confidence and support they need from government to be able to meet the lofty ambitions which have been set. This could include:

  • Providing a route map for more collaboration between government and business, as well as community and environmental groups
  • Prioritising support for flagship nationally significant solar developments through the planning process
  • Greater local spatial planning of small and medium scale solar sites, including to support community-led solar generation
  • Guidance to better unlock the wider community benefits of solar, in addition to biodiversity net gain
  • Putting solar at the heart of the UK’s long-term land management strategy to support the commercial viability of the British farming industry

Ultimately however, the most important thing the next Government will have to do is to start living up to its role as the country’s Explainer in Chief when it comes to the climate crisis, and level with those communities, particularly those in the Conservatives’ own heartlands, about the scale and pace of solar developments required to help decarbonise our electricity supply and ween our reliance on foreign imports.

Regardless of whether it is Rishi Sunak or another contender that the Conservatives choose to walk through the doors of Number 10 this Autumn, the party will inevitably remember one thing from last week’s political tumult. The public are ready to hear the truth.


Copper Consultancy is a communications, engagement and consultation specialist for infrastructure and development, taking projects from initiation through to operation.

Opinion piece written by Zak Ivany. Zak is an Account Director working in Copper’s Energy Practice.
For enquiries please contact: zak.ivany@copperconsultancy.com

The public attitudes report cited ‘2022 A Bright Future for Solar: Realising the UK’s Potential, A Study into Public Attitudes to Solar’ was jointly delivered by Copper in partnership with Solar Energy UK.

Click here to download the full report.

Challenge

RWE has ambitions to support the UK’s net zero goals and committed to investing £15bn in renewable generation in the UK. The business is rapidly changing, and we are tasked with helping the RWE team tell its evolving story.

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Insight

To achieve its aspirations and contribute to positive change, RWE needed to transform its narrative and reach strategic audiences to reposition itself in the UK as a leading supporter of the UK’s journey to net zero.

Supporting investment and development aspirations required better relationships with statutory, political and community stakeholders. RWE’s new strategy and its impact on the UK was largely unknown, and educating those with influence was critical. Positively influencing at a national, regional and local level was also on RWE’s agenda to secure a greater share of voice.

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Strategy

Our approach was a sustained, multi-channel communications campaign to illustrate and reiterate the new brand and corporate strategy. Evaluation of the brand through the assessment of media and stakeholder sentiment gave us insight into share of voice, reputation and impact and, in partnership with RWE, developed a new corporate positioning strategy.

Amplify

Already an integrated part of the RWE team, we developed a highly effective programme revolving around digital and social content laid the foundations for reaching critical audiences. Videos, animations, and graphics, delivered primarily via LinkedIn, visually bring RWE’s story to life. At the same time, we developed thought leadership pieces to begin to build RWE’s profile. Such assets supported our high-level media relations campaign and stakeholder engagement strategy designed to secure the attention of those most influential in the space.

Outcome

The strategy achieved significant success for RWE, launching it onto the national stage, contributing to key conversations around renewables. We secured agenda-setting coverage in the Financial Times, Daily Telegraph and the Scotsman, and the BBC and Reuters. Significant exposure activity combined with a focus on high-level stakeholder engagement culminated in RWE holding a prominent role in the UK investment summit hosted by the Prime Minister. While further afield, we secured regional engagement with Welsh and Scottish devolved authorities and influencers.

Perceptions of the RWE brand shifted, it enjoys a greater share of voice and significant influence in relation to renewable generation in the UK. RWE is still on this journey and we continue to provide strategic and tactical support.

It’s been 14 years since the introduction of the Planning Act 2008 and little has fundamentally changed in infrastructure planning since. It’s a well-known process and, in most parts, well-liked by the industry. But while the world has changed immeasurably since 2008, the process seems not to have evolved to suit. Andrew Weaver, Copper’s Director of Infrastructure, looks at what the British Energy Security Strategy (ESS) tells us about the future of infrastructure planning.

To meet the challenges of today, the government has signalled that change to infrastructure planning is coming. Consultation on making the regime quicker and more fit for purpose took place last year. And with the release of the ESS, the green shoots of change can be seen. The question remains, what change and will it be enough to deliver the infrastructure the country needs to reach net zero?

The government has set out a clear desire to consent infrastructure projects quicker, particularly in the energy sector. The ESS sets out their ambition to cut offshore wind consenting from up to four years down to one year. We understand the saving is in reference to the period after DCO submission. Promoters and developers will be delighted I’m sure.

There is mention of trimming the timescales for the examination process. Given the Government’s record on sticking to existing timescales for decisions – around a third of applications under Boris Johnson’s premiership have been delayed at the point of decision – it is doubtful this is really going to make the difference.

Updates to National Policy Statements are promised and there is recognition of the need to consider how projects interact with each other, potentially grouping applications to enable a holistic approach to delivery. Both of these are long overdue. From a public perspective seeing projects for energy transmission in isolation to each other let alone the energy production has long been a difficult subject to explain. It would be good to see this rolled out to other sectors where understanding of the end product is essential to consenting its constituent parts – carbon capture storage springs to mind.

There is little more to add at this stage. Perhaps the Queen’s Speech will reveal more.

In the meantime, for me, greater change is surely required to meet our country’s need for speed. Planning needs to be simplified and offer the certainty and clarity promised back when the current regime was instigated in 2008. Change needs to go further than cherry picking certain types of infrastructure such as offshore wind and solar. It needs to be wholesale so that there is a consistent approach that the public and stakeholders can quickly understand and engage with.

The process also needs to become more transparent and less legally thick. To paraphrase Kwasi Kwarteng, you can’t build infrastructure where people don’t want it. The public support infrastructure projects if they can see how they would individually benefit from them. Ensuring there is a clear understanding around the need for projects and taking the public on the journey through the planning process is critical to timely delivery. Having a clear process to base these messages off is essential. Government has a role to plan in owning this message and communicating it to communities.

Change is needed and is coming. We’re seeing the shoots in the ESS and as an industry we should be ready to embrace it. We’ve got a good process to build on. Now it’s about stripping this back and dealing with what is essential to making a decision.

After weeks of wrangling in the Cabinet, the Government has finally released its much-anticipated energy strategy – the British Energy Security Strategy. Copper’s Energy Director, Sam Cranston gives his thoughts on the new plan for Britain’s energy future.

As the contents of the strategy were widely circulated by the media in the weeks leading up to its release, it was well known that nuclear energy and offshore wind would form the backbone of the document. What we were uncertain about, until its publication, was the Government’s position on onshore wind and fracking. And, well, I’m not sure we’re any clearer. For now, we know that onshore wind will be subject to consultation, and there will be an impartial technical review on the safety of fracking.

It is clear that the UK needed an updated approach to energy, especially in light of the war in Ukraine. It is also refreshing to see the Government being bold in its ambitions for building a power supply that, in the words of the Prime Minister, is “made in Britain, for Britain”. However, just like the ten point plan for a green industrial revolution and the Net Zero Strategy, the devil will be in the detail.

The key highlights include:

  • Delivering up to 50GW of offshore wind by 2030
  • Working with a ‘limited number’ of communities to bring forward onshore wind
  • Growing solar five-fold (to 70GW) by 2035
  • Increasing ambitions for nuclear to 24GW by 2050
  • Maximising North Sea oil and gas production as part of the energy transition
  • Boosting hydrogen production to 10GW by 2030

Wind

On offshore wind, the strategy reemphasises Boris Johnson’s 2020 commitment – to turn the UK  into the Saudi Arabia of wind power generation. There’s no doubt that the sector is making huge ground on the original ‘40 by 30’ target, as shown by Vattenfall’s and Scottish Power’s recent success.

The revised target of ‘50 by 30’ has been welcomed by the industry. But achieving this will require a further step-change.

Helpfully, the strategy commits to reducing the consenting period to one year (a 75% reduction) to fast-track new developments. However, there is little detail on the proposed changes to the Planning Act 2008.

Despite having a dedicated section in the document, and an acknowledgement that it is “one of the cheapest forms of renewable power”, the Government’s approach to onshore wind remains vague. Emphasis will likely be on developers to demonstrate local support, which our recent polling shows is strong, suggesting a clear backing for prioritising onshore wind projects. But what constitutes “clear support” – as the strategy puts it – remains unclear.

Reactions from the sector have been critical, with many pointing out that onshore wind could be the quickest way to reach net zero cheaply and securely.

Solar

The strategy commits to increasing solar five-fold by 2035, from 14GW to 70GW. Much like offshore wind, the industry has welcomed this ambition. We eagerly await details over the new consultation requirements, as well as amendments to the current planning rules, which will support these new developments.

Nuclear

Nuclear power has been at the heart of the Government’s energy security plans for some time, and the PM is clearly a fan of making Britain a pioneer of nuclear once again, for both large-scale plants and Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). The strategy outlines a number of funding and policy commitments that have been made to accelerate the growth of nuclear, and we’re now waiting to see how the sector can transform the Government’s rhetoric into tangible action.

Tidal

Our recent polling showed strong public support for tidal power, but the strategy only gives it a single reference (under ‘other technologies’), which is unlikely to offer much reassurance to developers looking to bring forward new projects.

Oil & Gas

The Government sees the expansion of North Sea oil and gas extraction as critical to fuelling the transition to net zero and reducing bills, whilst removing our reliance on overseas imports. Unsurprisingly, this has been met with fierce opposition from various environmental groups. However, the strategy does commit to ensuring efforts to decarbonise the industry, as well as funding for new carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) clusters across the country.

Transmission

Expanding and speeding up the delivery of the UK’s new electricity transmission network didn’t make headlines when the strategy was released. But it is a critical component of the Government’s vision. Without a grid to connect to, 50GW of offshore wind and 70GW of Solar will be useless, so it’s helpful to see the network upgrade as a key component of the new strategy.

What next

For now, we shall wait and see how these commitments play out in reality. In the absence of significant policy reform, one thing is certain about this strategy: community engagement will be critical to its success. Our recent polling shows there is national and local support for new renewable projects, the job now is to build on that support and deliver a system that provides sustainable, reliable and cheap energy for the decades to come.

Rapidly rising oil and gas prices, combined with the war in Ukraine, have pushed energy supply security to the top of the Government’s policy agenda – the PM is expected to unveil the UK’s new Energy Strategy this week.

New research published today by Copper Consultancy shows that the public overwhelmingly supports the Government’s move to shore up the country’s security of energy supply, and back the development of onshore wind to support this.

Over 78 per cent of those surveyed believe the UK needs to become more self-sufficient in generating its energy. As well as expressing support for addressing the issue in principle, most people said they want to see a range of renewable technologies prioritised for development.

Contrary to current political thinking, a large section of the public back the mass expansion of onshore wind – 38 per cent favour this. Such support rises to 40 per cent among those who voted for the Conservatives in the 2019 election.

These findings suggest the Government is unlikely to get the level of pushback from its supporters that some ministers and other MPs expect, with the research showing that the majority have become more likely to support proposed energy projects in their local area over the last six months.

The nationally representative polling has revealed that public opinion on the remainder of the Government’s energy priorities is in line with current political rhetoric, as 45 per cent believe offshore wind should be prioritised and 37 per cent support the expansion of large scale solar, with backing for nuclear energy slightly cooler at 24 per cent.

The energy and cost of living crises have inspired a radical policy rethink, as industries previously considered taboo, such as fracking, are apparently back on the table for Ministers. With this increase in policy flexibility, combined with mounting evidence in support of onshore wind, we shouldn’t discount another change of heart from Number 10 before the Energy Strategy is published.

Sam Cranston, Energy Director at Copper, said: “Our research challenges current thinking, showing clear, continued public support for the UK’s move towards renewables, and that consumers want action to address rising prices and provide national security of our energy supply.

“Such public backing should give confidence to developers and the wider industry to continue their sustained drive to meet the Government’s 2050 net zero target”

Contact Sam Cranston for further information.

Challenge

Viking Link is a planned 1400-MW interconnector between the UK and Denmark. It comprises over 760km of underground subsea cables between converter stations at Bicker Fen in the UK and Revsing in Denmark. The onshore cables run 68km from the Lincolnshire coast to the inland converter station.

Alongside National Grid and a multidisciplinary project team, Copper was brought on board to lead the communications and consultation activity across three consultation phases for this sensitive project.

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Insight

This project was politically sensitive and politically charged, spanning multiple local authorities and Westminster constituency boundaries. As a result, communications needed to be meticulously planned to avoid additional conflict and secure political acceptance.

Linked to this was public opposition to EU-backed projects resulting from the timing of the pre-application phase, which coincided with the Brexit referendum, and a high proportion of Leave voters in Lincolnshire.

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Strategy

Given the project sensitivities, it called for an engagement and community-led approach. Central to this was developing a compelling need and benefits narrative to help stakeholders and the public understand what the project means for their community.

The geographical spread of the development required a wide-reaching consultation strategy to ensure all corners of the communities along the route could share their views. Alongside this, we focused on bringing political stakeholders into the conversation through a robust political engagement strategy.

Such a large, linear utility project spanning five local authority areas necessitated a collaborative project team approach to consultation and engagement.

Amplify

Alongside crafting an audience-focused narrative to bring the project to life for local people, we created a straightforward narrative to articulate the complex route and siting process ahead of the route options consultation. This helpef built project understanding and emphasised its positive contribution to the local community in a way that was accessible to a broad audience.

With equal emphasis on engaging political stakeholders, in conjunction with the project team and National Grid, we developed a political engagement campaign that kept MPs and councillors fully briefed on the project, focusing on the scheme’s advantages for the local area.

We also delivered a communications and stakeholder ‘drumbeat’ outside of key consultation milestones, which was vital to maintaining momentum and building acceptance and advocacy for the project. This included regular political briefings spanning site visits and presentations at full council meetings and hosting our own events.

Outcome

The multi-pronged, collaborative approach resulted in high levels of participation from residents, landowners, parish councils, elected members and community and stakeholder groups. More than 1,000 local residents and stakeholders participated in the consultation, providing 600 pieces of meaningful feedback to help shape and guide the project.

Viking Link is currently under construction and expected to be operational in 2023.

Challenge

The Norfolk Boreas offshore wind farm is a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) which, along with its sister project – Norfolk Vanguard – will have an installed capacity of 3.6GW, representing 10% of UK household demand.

The 725km2 wind farm site is located 72km off the North Norfolk coast and will consist of between 90 and 180 wind turbines with rated capacities of between 10MW and 20MW.

Copper was brought in to deliver compliant consultation and stakeholder engagement, fast.

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Insight

Projects of this size and scale bring a level of interest and concern amongst local residents and businesses. However, Vattenfall’s flagship UK projects faced increased scrutiny. Developments of this kind are becoming ubiquitous along the whole Norfolk coast, and Vattenfall’s projects are just two of several proposals. As a result, there was vocal opposition to associated onshore, above-ground infrastructure. With the potential to adversely impact communities along the cable route too, a compelling narrative and engaging consultation were imperative.

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Strategy

Given the level of scepticism and misgivings about such infrastructure, our priority was to build trust and earn respect from stakeholders and local communities.

Amplify

With a requirement to deliver ‘gold standard’ consultation at pace, the first step was to understand the key audiences – who they were, their likely perceptions and potential concerns, to be as targeted and proactive as possible. Using stakeholder mapping, we identified and gathered insight into key stakeholders, community groups and general public audiences. Armed with intelligent data, we delivered audience-focused workshops and events and held meetings to discover and address concerns, proactively resolving issues.

Throughout the consultation period, we delivered 31 community consultation events and workshops and organised more than 200 meetings with the local parish councils, groups and representatives. In addition, we supported seven events people and proactively engaged with 100% of landowners along the cable corridor.

Our creative team supported the audience-centric, proactive approach with a full suite of statutory consultation material in an easy-to-understand format. The materials were designed to articulate the project, its benefits and encourage input from stakeholders and the community. Assets included a consultation summary booklet, information banners, response form and bespoke information leaflets.

Outcome

We secured a high volume of meaningful feedback during the consultation, which formed the basis for a comprehensive consultation report, and the project received consent in December 2021.

Challenge

Hinkley Point C nuclear power station is part of the Government’s strategy to keep the lights on in the UK. National Grid is building a high-voltage grid connection for the project, between Bridgwater and Seabank near Avonmouth. In 2009, we were tasked to develop and deliver a consultation strategy to support the Development Consent Order application. We have been retained ever since, taking this major project from planning through to construction. The project is in construction, and we continue to support National Grid and its contractors. Our team also works to protect and enhance National Grid’s reputation to leave a positive legacy for the project.

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Insight

Hinkley Point C is a nationally significant infrastructure project and a major investment in the region’s electricity network. However there was significant local opposition to the proposals throughout the planning and development stages. This posed a risk to the project if it were to continue into the construction stage. We needed to switch the communications approach from ‘reactive’ to ‘proactive’ and reposition the narrative to concentrate on the project’s benefits.

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Strategy

We worked closely with National Grid’s team to identify and promote positive stories about the project. We used this as the foundation to develop and implement a sustainable programme of project communications to meet the formal requirements of the Development Consent Order.

To minimise the risks of project delays, opposition and criticism we provide clear and timely information to stakeholders about the work in their area too, and quickly respond to any concerns. We devised procedures to inform and update local communities and other stakeholders about construction work and the steps National Grid and its contractors take to reduce local impact. We also put processes in place to monitor the mood of local communities, allowing us to identify and respond rapidly to any emerging issues.

Amplify

Since construction started, we have communicated with more than 10,000 households. We also maintain and regular update a project website, making it the ‘go to’ place for stakeholders to learn the latest information. We have established positive relationships with local community groups and parish councils and use these links to help spread information as widely as possible. Should there be any concerns amongst the public, a responsive 24-hour contact centre service enables the local community to get a swift response.

Outcome

Despite the highly disruptive nature of the work, there is widespread public acceptance of the project. A minimal number of complaints have been received and no issues have been escalated by local residents or community stakeholders to the media or their elected members. These successes have given National Grid the confidence to reposition the project narrative going forward. In the future, communications and engagement will place an even greater emphasis on the positive impact and benefits National Grid will bring to the area over the next five years and beyond.

Overview

HyNet North West is an innovative carbon capture and hydrogen project to unlock a low carbon economy for the North West and North Wales. It will put the region at the forefront of the UK’s drive to net zero. By creating the UK’s first low-carbon hydrogen cluster, the project seeks to provide clean hydrogen energy for the future, de-carbonise the region’s heavy industry, protect existing jobs and create thousands of new ones.  

As the project moved towards a more public-facing stage, we were engaged to evolve the HyNet North West brand and tasked to create a communications campaign to support the launch of the public consultation for the first stage of the project.

Activity

Website
We developed the UI designs and redeveloped the HyNet webite, simplifying the navigation and streamlining information. We created a series of graphics and assets that could be utilised across multiple channels, as well as on the website.

Consultation hub
Sitting alongside the website, we developed a consultation microsite to support the first consultation on the HyNet North West project. The look and feel reflected the overarching HyNet brand.

Social
We develop social graphics to support HyNet’s key messages, encourage engagement and explain complex concepts to stakeholders and the public We develop social graphics to support HyNet’s key messages, encourage engagement and explain complex concepts to stakeholders and the public.

Animation
HyNet North West is made up of several different projects, the first of which is a carbon capture pipeline. We designed and delivered an animation to help explain key elements of the project in an accessible way, enabling people to easily respond to the project’s public consultation.

Outcome

The public responded very favourably to the campaign. There were more than 8,000 visits to the consultation hub website during the non-statutory consultation period, driven by promotional materials and social media.

We saw a marked increase in social media engagement across multiple channels, with Twitter seeing a 279% increase in impressions, LinkedIn experiencing a 303% increase in new followers and HyNet North West’s Facebook account having more than an 8,433% increase in engagement.

The campaign built a positive platform for future stages of consultation and engagement needed for HyNet North West to succeed.