The government will today take a bold step it believes will remove the biggest single barrier to renewable energy: access to the National Grid.
Today, wind farms can wait 10 years or more to supply homes and businesses. To end this, ministers have told the high-voltage network to start building connections before formal financial commitments from users. The operating company, National Grid plc, confirmed it had agreed to start “sharing” of transmission lines so electricity from wind could use them when needed, handing back capacity to conventional power when the blades are not turning.
The government also plans to change the remit of the regulator, Ofgem, so it puts more emphasis on low carbon schemes to use the 10GW of green power stuck at various stages of development. The planning process will be also speeded up, and the Ministry of Defence has been told to drop objections over alleged radar interference from turbines.
The whole package was a drive “from the prime minister down”, said government sources. It was broadly welcomed by the industry’s Renewable Energy Association, which praised a move on from “soundbite policy-making”, but called for the government’s action plan to be brought forward from 2010 to 2008. “The key missing factor is a greater sense of urgency,” said Philip Wolfe, the chief executive.
Gordon Brown has committed Britain to cut carbon emissions by 60% by 2050, and produce 15% of energy from renewables by 2020. Industry, politicians and thinktanks question this, due to delays in grid connections and planning decisions.
The grid measures are part of the UK renewable strategy, published today by John Hutton, the industry secretary. Subject to consultation, the strategy suggests building 4,000 offshore and 3,000 onshore turbines, as revealed by the Guardian last week.
The government will claim most people back the wind farm drive, with a new NOP poll showing 80% favour their use and 64% are happy to live within 5km of a development. The drive will create 160,000 jobs by 2020, Hutton will say.
Chris Bennett, future transmission manager at National Grid, said it was “absolutely committed to hitting the renewable targets set by the government” and believed it had the plans and investment lined up so “the people who want it will get access to the grid”. The company has been accused of putting the targets at risk. Welsh Power told a Westminster select committee this week it had been told 2022 was the first possible date it could have a transmission line built for a project.
The government’s Renewables Advisory Board said that of three “highest priority and most urgent issues”, number one was transmission connections. The innovation, universities, science and skills select committee recently criticised “complacent” attitudes at the National Grid and Ofgem. Bennett replied that the grid was doing all it could to clear the logjams; some were caused by a regulatory system designed at a time when power had come from a few big plants.
The Guardian, Thursday June 26, 2008
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