Irish grid operator raises barriers -- Full stop for new wind plant

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A call by Ireland's transmission system operator for a halt to grid connection of new wind plants has led to outrage among wind developers. ESB National Grid says stability and security issues need to be resolved. Early last month it won the backing of energy regulator Tom Reeves, who said that no more connection permits had to be offered before the end of 2003. He is also considering a moratorium on further connections until technical issues are resolved.

Kieran O'Brien, who heads ESB National Grid, says 700 MW of wind projects are either connected to the system or hold connection permits. This is 13.6% of fully dispatchable conventional plant -- a level that raises system security issues. Moreover, connection applications could take wind to more than 1200 MW in a matter of months. "This dramatic change has taken place without the necessary issues to ensure system security, stability and reliability being fully dealt with," he says.

Wind farmers co-operative Meitheal na Gaoithe says the stop to permits has created a disastrous situation, with investment of EUR 4 million in projects by its members left high and dry. The co-operative's Tommy Cooke asks why ESB National Grid has waited until a flood of demands poured in before acting on an issue known about for years. "Unless the minister steps in very quickly ... we will see the total collapse of independent private sector involvement in wind energy," he adds.

Green energy generator and supplier Airtricity says the grid's concerns ignore the findings of an independent study for the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), which said 2000 MW of wind could be connected with little difficulty and 3000 MW connected with some changes to the operation of the network. Currently less than 200 MW is connected. "The only conclusion that can be gathered from this poorly timed announcement is that the ESB are determined to remain the monopoly electricity supplier, operating by rules set by themselves designed to hinder competition," says Airtricity's Martin McAdam.

The Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) is calling on Reeves to rescind his decision and allow case-by-case decisions on applications. It also wants to see CER initiate action to end the uncertainty on connection issues. "Somebody needs to get a grip," among the three government bodies with responsibility for the issues, says IWEA's Maureen de Pietro.

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