More Irish grid barriers

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Irish wind developers are on the warpath. The first offers for grid connection to emerge from ESB National Grid (ESBNG) under its new "group processing" approach are proving to be far more expensive than expected and threaten to severely delay projects. ESBNG is processing connection applications in groups to minimise delays in clearing the backlog that built up during the past two years of a moratorium on all new connection offers.

An extreme example of the higher than expected costs is a project at Ballycadden in County Wexford where eight farmers hope to build a 14.5 MW wind farm on their land. In 2001, ESBNG estimated the connection would cost IRĀ£450,000 (EUR 571,000). Today, however, it quotes a cost of EUR 5.3 million -- almost a ten-fold increase. A neighbouring 5 MW project has seen the cost of its connection rise four-fold from a 2003 estimate. Moreover, ESBNG says the deep reinforcement work needed to connect the total 19.5 MW to the nearest grid node 14 kilometres away cannot be completed until 2009, when a new line will have been built from Crane to Lodgewood. By that time, siting permission for the Ballycadden project will have expired.

"Group processing is a disaster if this is the result," says energy consultant Grattan Healy, adviser to the developers. He complains that ESBNG does not detail how it arrives at the EUR 5.3 million quote. "They are going to be sorry they took us on," he warns. "We are going to give them hell."

Airtricity's Richfield project in Wexford is also awaiting deep reinforcement. Before the project can be connected, three lines require upgrading, which is likely to take 19 months -- perilously close to the 2007 date for the project's building permission to run out. Yet another wind developer confirms that its quote was twice the price expected.

The problems stem from ESBNG's insistence on deep reinforcement of the grid to satisfy unnecessarily inflexible transmission planning standards, says Airtricity's Paddy O'Kane. Ballycadden is an example of the problems against which developers are struggling under the current standards, he says. "I find it hard to see how 19.5 MW of wind would trigger an upgrade on a local two-twenty kilovolt network. There are other technical solutions out there that can address these problems."

It can take the grid operator between five to ten years for deep reinforcement works to be completed, says O'Kane. "With normal planning permission lasting up to five years, a lot of people are going to lose their projects." He calls for a review of the transmission planning standards to take account of smaller centrally dispatched or partially dispatched plant. "If we don't get that we are increasingly going to get grid offers to connect wind power plants sometime in 2015."

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