United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Regulator slices through red tape -- Wind free to connect to Scottish grid

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British energy regulator Ofgem has given the go-ahead to a temporary relaxation in the rules covering the grid network to speed up connections for some 450 MW of wind generators in Scotland. The interim solution has been agreed while more enduring reforms are being introduced and in advance of new additional network capacity. It means that the selected generators will be able to connect as soon as they are ready -- some of them are expected to hook up to the wires this year.

In 2008, National Grid identified 454 MW of wind projects that could be allowed to jump up the 17 GW queue for connections. In some cases they had been blocked by less advanced projects further up the queue; in others they were awaiting completion of grid reinforcements such as the interconnector between Scotland and England or the 400 kV Beauly to Denny upgrade which has not received consent. Some projects were originally given connection dates as far away as 2018.

Now, some six months later, Ofgem has agreed the proposed "derogation" from Britain's security and quality of supply (GB SQSS) standards governing the high voltage network. Any generator will now be able to ask for an earlier connection, with system operator National Grid given the job of managing any over capacity on the wires by curtailing supply, should it become necessary to do so.

This so-called "interim connect and manage" approach means wind developers no longer have to wait until new transmission capacity is available before they can build. In return, they may be occasionally "constrained" from feeding power to the grid by the system operator. Any generator asked to reduce output will receives compensation payments from National Grid, providing security for financing projects. Ofgem points out that the relaxation of the GB SQSS standards will result in electricity customers paying the higher costs from increased constraint payments.

Ofgem's Steve Smith says that being flexible in applying the rules is an innovative way of speeding up connections in the short term. "This decision means low-carbon projects (whether seeking connection to the transmission or distribution systems) will no longer be delayed by the need to invest in the grid. The new approach will also help other generators in comparable circumstances."

Increased investment

The long term solution will be to reform access arrangements and increase network capacity, he adds. "Ofgem has allowed major increases in investment to achieve this. Delays in planning decisions mean the pace of change here has been too slow; however, we anticipate that the reforms in last year's Planning Act will make a difference," he says, referring to the creation of the Infrastructure Planning Commission to decide applications for large infrastructure projects, including major transmission lines.

The new pragmatic approach to running the wires follows Ofgem's approval a month earlier of £12.5 million by two of Britain's electricity transmission system owners for preparatory work on the network in anticipation of a huge increase in renewable generation. It allows National Grid Electricity Transmission and ScottishPower Transmission Ltd to start feasibility studies and preparations for the investment to connect new renewables to meet the UK's 2020 targets. Ofgem says that this funding will further speed up connections.

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