The debate over grid connection charges may continue, but Scotland will realise its full potential for green energy production only when the government overhauls the planning system, according to the industry regulator.
It is already holding up the Beauly to Denny pylon line, the key to a renewables revolution in Scotland. However, Ofgem said that a new mechanism must also be found to ensure that viable projects are not delayed by more marginal or speculative proposals getting in the way.
The regulator has recently come in for stinging criticism from First Minister Alex Salmond over discriminatory charges faced by remote renewable energy projects in the Highlands and Islands for connection to the grid.
But in a report published later today, Ofgem highlights the overriding need to find a way to secure grid access for more projects such as wind farms or hydro schemes in face of the unprecedented demand for connections across the UK.
According to National Grid, the large growth in renewable generation and increasing numbers of gas-fired power stations seeking connections could see another 45GW of generation wanting a connection in the next nine years. This is compared with the 77GW of installed capacity for all the UK’s current energy needs and the 25GW of new connection over the past 16 years.
Over the next nine years around 13GW of nuclear, coal and oil-fired generation is expected to come off the grid, but this could all but be replaced by Scottish renewables with a queue of 12GW of generation already formed north of the border.
Ofgem believes that it is unlikely all of this generation will get built due to planning or financial constraints, so a way must be found of weeding out the weaker applications.
Ofgem chief executive Alistair Buchanan said: “Never before has the electricity network faced such demand for connection from new generation. While Ofgem has allowed the investment to connect viable new generation, key network projects are now mired in the planning process, which could lead to delays in generators getting connected. Ofgem is seeking innovative ways to help connect as much generation as possible and today has published details of what has been achieved so far.”
He said progress had been made in connecting more generation, like allowing generators already connected to the transmission system to temporarily share capacity with renewable generators seeking a connection.
An interim arrangement had also been put in place so generators can make a commitment to obtain a connection without having to pay high upfront costs to transmission companies, but more action was needed.
By David Ross
10 October 2007
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