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Ireland

Ireland

Creeping progress on grid backlog -- Freeing Irish wind

Ireland's year long impasse in connecting new wind energy projects to its grid network may at last be broken under the latest proposals from the Commissioner for Energy Regulation (CER), Tom Reeves. But for many developers, it still means waiting up to a year before they will be in receipt of a signed connection offer.

Reeves is consulting on plans to direct the transmission and distribution system operators to issue connection offers as a priority to 33 wind developers whose applications are complete. They were put on hold when a moratorium on new connection offers for wind projects was imposed in December 2003.

The moratorium was supposedly lifted in October, but to no avail. Ireland's two electricity system operators -- which are both owned by the country's incumbent electricity supplier, ESB -- argued that a different approach was needed to deal with the log jam of 111 applications to connect a total 1640 MW of wind capacity. ESB National Grid, the transmission system operator (TSO), claimed it could take up to eight years before all applicants are able to accept connection offers under the current process.

Reeves accepted ESB's arguments and has agreed to their proposal that applications should be dealt with on a group basis rather than individually. This means taking account of the impact that a group of generators as a whole will have on the network when making connection offers. The present system analyses applications individually. According to ESB, once a connection offer has been accepted, other connection applications that are affected by its impact on the network are pulled back to day one in the 70 business day process while they are reanalysed and reworked.

Clearing a backlog

"The current process was never meant to deal with this level of applications," says David Naughton of the CER. "Group processing is really being proposed as an interim measure to clear the backlog." Once the flood of applications for connection decreases, the system operators could revert back to dealing with applications individually, he says.

Reeves says the 33 applications for a total of 330 MW should be dealt with under the "group processing approach." In this first round of processing, known as "Gate 1," the 33 will be broken down into groups according to geographic location or level of interaction. The regulator expects the process of issuing and accepting offers to take six months.

The second round of processing -- or Gate 2 -- is to begin as soon as Gate 1 offers have been accepted and signed. But the CER is to consult the industry on the criteria for being included in Gate 2, such as giving priority to applicants who are ready to proceed, with their project needing only the grid connection.

Thwarted

Some wind developers are disappointed that such criteria were not used to select applicants for inclusion in Gate 1. Merely selecting completed applications received before the moratorium does not indicate whether they are ready to go ahead with building their project, says one thwarted developer.

From the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA), Maureen de Pietro accepts the CER's proposal as the fairest solution. "They have to deal with the people who were there on December 3, 2003," she says. "Those of us who applied after that date knew there were going to be delays, so we do not have the same kind of complaint as those who were hit out of the blue by the moratorium."

A more contentious issue is who will be included in Gate 2, says De Pietro. One of the problems resulting from the delays in connecting new wind projects is that a number of planning consents are soon to reach their five year expiry date. "A lot of people in the queue for connection offers will lose their planning permissions through no fault of their own," she says.

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