Aug 20, 2023

British energy developers to be told: speed up projects or leave queue for grid

Move expected to help reduce waits of up to 15 years to connect solar power installations

Britain's electricity system operator will tell energy developers to get on with their projects or get out of the queue for a grid connection as it struggles to manage the growing backlog of delayed green energy projects.

The ultimatum is expected to help speed up the 10- to 15-year wait for a grid connection, which is holding back billions in green investment and threatens to derail the UK's progress towards its climate targets.

The electricity system operator, which is owned by the FTSE 100 energy firm National Grid, has faced fierce criticism for the green energy gridlock but has promised its new reforms could slash up to 10 years from the current waiting time.

It said it would tell developers to "get on, get back or get out of the energy queue" to make way for projects that are ready to generate clean electricity for the grid. This means developers that have applied for a connection will need to prove that their schemes are making progress, or risk losing their place in the queue.

The company has retained a legal firm to help move aside delayed developers to make way for viable projects. It is also working with the regulator to tweak existing rules that developers can build their own grid connections.

The reforms come following growing criticism within the UK's renewable energy industry over National Grid's handling of its grid connection queue. MPs revealed last month that businesses in Great Britain were facing waits of up to 15 years to secure a connection to solar power installations, which could pull the plug on the government's ambition to install 70GW of solar by 2035.

The energy regulator Ofgem's chief executive, Jonathan Brearley, last month described the delays as unacceptable and criticised a "legacy of stalled, unviable and often highly speculative ‘zombie’ projects blocking ready-to-go solar, wind and other renewable schemes stuck behind them".

There are about 220 projects waiting to be hooked up to the national transmission system before 2026 but only half of these projects have planning permission and some have pushed back their expected start date by up to 14 years, according to the system operator.

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Barnaby Wharton, a director at trade association Renewable UK, said: "Grid connection delays are holding back £15bn of investment in offshore wind alone over the course of this decade, at the very time when we need to boost our energy security as quickly as possible and provide cheap power for consumers to tackle the cost of living crisis."

The changes could help "unlock new clean energy capacity faster" by letting projects that are ready to connect to the grid move ahead of projects that "simply aren't making progress", Wharton added.

In the past National Grid only had to set up connections to the occasional, usually large, power plant – but the green electricity boom has led to many more grid connection applications from hundreds of smaller renewable energy projects.

The pace of the UK's renewables rollout is expected to build to help meet an anticipated 50% rise in demand for electricity across the country by 2035.

The government has set out plans to build enough offshore wind to power every home in the UK by 2030, and promised to lift an effective ban on onshore wind farms in England, too. The UK is also expecting to increase the number of subsea cables connecting the grid to neighbouring countries.

Zoisa North-Bond, the chief executive of Octopus Energy Generation, a sister company to home energy supplier Octopus Energy, said the new grid reforms were "a positive step" but added that the "devil is in the detail".

"We’re past the point of polite processes. What we need is fresh thinking beyond the concept of ‘a queue’, like concrete dates to implement steps, a firmer stance on prioritising renewables over fossil fuels, and better use of data to show where projects can connect quicker. This will end the gridlock, unlock Britain's colossal renewables potential and bring down bills for good," she said.

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