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Too little grid and too many trees -- Welsh development stymied

A strategic approach to grid upgrades is needed in Wales if the wind industry is to deliver the country's renewables targets, a distribution network operator warns. The seven small zones identified by the Welsh Assembly Government for wind development are not where the existing grid infrastructure is, says Peter Roper from network operator SP Transmission and Distribution.

Made in Wales and made for Wales is how Andrew Davies, the Welsh Assembly minister for economic development, describes Wales's strategy for renewables. Planning policy guidance on renewables, Technical Advice Note 8 (TAN8), will help deliver the Welsh target of 4 TWh per year of renewables including 800 MW of new onshore wind and 200 MW of new offshore capacity by 2010, he says.

But Roper has his doubts. "There is just not the capacity on the distribution system to take that amount of generation -- or anything near it." Yet TAN8 does not allow for strategic investment in the wires. "We are constrained by working in the current regulatory environment," he says. This means that SP cannot upgrade the network until real projects apply for connection. "We need to know where real generating sites are going to be and what the capacity is going to be," adds Roper.

The inevitable piecemeal approach to connecting new generation will not allow the targets to be met in time.

Forestry is another major factor limiting the industry's ability to meet the Welsh targets. Over 50% of the turbines the Welsh government expects to be built in its seven Strategic Search Areas (SSAs) would be located within forests, says Andrew Tindal from consultants Garrad Hassan. "The selection of forested areas increases the technical challenge; it reduces wind speed and increases turbulence intensity and wind shear, leading to lower lifetimes for turbines," he says. "This is an issue which is considered serious by turbine suppliers." He quotes Siemens as saying: '"Do not site turbines near trees."

Tindal also warns that issues thrown up by the environment assessment process are likely to reduce the potential for development within the SSAs still further. Developers expect a large reduction in the overall area available for wind to result from site specific studies into visual impact, ecology, birds and archaeology, among other impacts. A study undertaken by Garrad Hassan for the Welsh Development Agency found that TAN8 has the potential to ensure the targets are met, he says. "But it takes five years to develop a wind farm and the 2010 target date is only five years away."

Lease options

Meantime, Forestry Commission Wales (FCW), a department of the Welsh Assembly, is inviting companies to bid for development leases within the seven SSAs. In the first stage of the process, companies have applied to pre-qualify to bid for a ten year option agreement giving them the sole right to plan wind projects and apply for planning consent on Assembly-owned forestry within each of the SSAs. Once they secure planning consent, FCW expects to grant a 25 year lease.

"We will be looking for companies with a capability to deliver a major part of the Welsh Assembly's renewable energy requirement," says an FCW spokesman. FCW decided to award just one option for lease within each SSA to simplify its management of the process. "We want to be able to manage our relationship with developers. We are not resourced to deal with a free for all," he says.

FCW expects to issue invitations to tender to pre-qualified bidders by the end of this month, with a closing date for bids of the end of June. And it hopes to award lease options in early August.

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