Changes to the law
Alliander’s activities are highly regulated by legislation and regulations. However, those laws and regulations mostly predate the energy transition. Back then, decentralised renewable energy generation, the heating transition, electric mobility and making industry more sustainable were not topics of any real importance. Alliander is consulting with relevant stakeholders to work out in more detail how the legislation required for the energy transition, for example based on the Dutch Climate Agreement, should take shape in the Energy Act, the Collective Heating Supply Act, the Heating Transition (municipal instruments) Act and the Environment & Planning Act with the National Strategy on Spatial Planning and the Environment. Even though the Climate Agreement is already several years old, the rules necessary for its implementation are not yet in place despite the pressing need for a legislative framework that will facilitate successful completion of this transition. The Energy Act is currently expected to come into effect from 1 January 2024.
Integrated Energy Act
The current Electricity Act and Gas Act are to be modernised and merged in the new Energy Act. The legal texts were published in 2021. Alliander endorses the objective of the new Energy Act, which is to create an integrated and future-proof legal framework for the energy system. However, we believe that it does not yet include adequate provisions for a number of topics. Much of the new legislation will be fleshed out in subordinate legislation, which is easier to adapt and amend. Key areas of focus in the new Energy Act are as follows:
The Energy Act provides for changes to the connection and transmission obligation. The eighteen-week time limit will be replaced by a reasonable time limit, to be defined in codes. Furthermore, it must be possible to distinguish between types of connections, for example. The right to a connection and transmission will be linked to the availability of transmission capacity: if capacity is lacking, the connection can be postponed. There will also be provisions to the effect that contracted transmission capacity must actually be used.
The Energy Act must ensure that connected parties have control over their metering data and that they can determine the parties with which they share their data at their own discretion. The network operator has a facilitating role to play here. The Energy Act is intended to set out the principles applying to the use and provision of data by network operators.
The Energy Act must create scope for more market roles, greater diversity of contracts and tariffs that encourage efficient use of the available transmission capacity. It must also make it possible for active connected parties to participate in demand response, congestion management or other services set up to enhance flexibility or facilitate local exchange.
The Energy Act must create scope for experimentation with innovations, system integration and various forms of collaboration. Network companies should not be restricted in their role as important links to the future energy system. Furthermore, network operators need to be legally allowed to distribute hydrogen gas via the existing gas networks. Experimentation with sustainable gases such as hydrogen will only be possible in the short term if — in anticipation of the new Energy Act — the Gas Act is amended to allow this.
Broadly speaking, the draft version of the Energy Act seems to make adequate provision for the first three points. At the same time, efforts are underway to achieve a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions, which involves an even more challenging task package for the energy system infrastructure. This acceleration in the pace of the transition requires not less, but more scope for experimentation, including by network companies. In addition, we feel that attention should be given to the importance of prioritisation in times of scarce network capacity, to ensuring that all aspects of the transition follow a clear and implementation-proof path, and to the need to set clear frameworks for a flexible energy system and create opportunities for efficient system integration. This is currently not adequately provided for in the draft Energy Act. Quick action to develop the subordinate regulations is essential now, and provision must also be made to adapt that legislation annually to this rapidly changing task of making the transition a reality.
A new Heating Act
The expectation is that many houses will be connected to a district heating network in the coming years, as an alternative to heating with natural gas. Legislation should be supportive of the accelerated roll-out of district heating networks, while also ensuring that consumers are properly protected. This is why Alliander believes that the new Heating Act (the Collective Heating Supply Act) should encourage competition by legislating for as many different types of district heating network as possible, and not just one system with one party that is responsible for the end-to-end heating operations. This would open up opportunities for diversity and innovation, which would benefit consumers in turn. Electricity, (sustainable) gas and heating should be considered more in conjunction with each other in the future. Network companies can add value here, based on their social role.
Heating Transition (municipal instruments) Act
The proposed Heating Transition (municipal instruments) Act was submitted for consultation at the end of 2021. It gives municipalities powers to convert a district to natural gas-free heating, provided a good, affordable sustainable alternative is available. This implies that the existing natural gas transmission obligation for the network operator in that particular residential area will expire after a certain date. A generous transition period should be observed here so that owners of homes and other buildings can prepare for this change. The proposed Act is intended to help keep the energy transition affordable.
Environment & Planning Act
The Environment & Planning Act combines the rules for spatial projects with the aim of creating greater coherence in all decision-making processes relating to the physical living environment. The Act gives municipalities greater administrative discretion. In Alliander's view, it is essential that the impact and space requirements of the energy infrastructure are included in municipal environmental visions and plans, to guarantee the feasibility of network expansions and modifications. We have requested access to the Digital System for the Environment & Planning Act (‘Digitaal Stelsel Omgevingswet’, DSO) so that we can keep abreast of all developments. We see the DSO as an opportunity to make all the rules transparent, speed up planning processes relating to our infrastructure and ensure input from stakeholders. The new Environment & Planning Act will come into effect in October 2022.
Turnaround times for spatial planning procedures
In order to shorten the time it takes to build new infrastructure, we need to move towards intensive cooperation between government authorities and network operators. We frequently see that the process for permit procedures is extremely long-drawn-out. Ideally, these procedures need to be shortened to a maximum of two years. In addition to this, we collectively need to plan further ahead, even if we do not currently know what the final system choices will be. Alliander is therefore working on a national approach for integrated programming of the energy infrastructure expansion, at both the regional and national levels. Integrated programming ensures that we can make long-term choices regarding the energy systems (electricity, sustainable gases and/or heating). It identifies when the expansion projects should be implemented and in what sequence, but always in relation to the specific local, regional or national context and taking into account the necessary spatial developments. If, from a spatial planning perspective, we succeed in getting the energy system included in all plans much earlier, we can build our networks faster.