The Westcountry’s renewable energy industry has been dealt a major blow after the company responsible for the electricity network said it had reached capacity for “green” schemes.
Western Power Distribution said the grid was being temporarily closed to new, large-scale renewable energy projects for the next three to six years while new infrastructure is installed.
While opponents of wind and solar farms may rejoice at the news, it is a significant setback for the renewable energy sector in the South West which supports 16,000 jobs and is worth £1.1 billion to the economy.
It will not initially affect small, domestic installations, but threatens to make many major solar, wave or wind energy projects – which will be unable to feed their “spare” electricity into the national grid – unviable.
Merlin Hyman, the head of Regen South West, said: “There will definitely be a slowdown in the renewable energy sector. It may, however, drive innovation for new approaches and energy solutions.
“This is a national issue and we are lobbying Ofgen hard to see a more strategic investment made in the grid.”
In a letter to industry, seen by the Western Morning News, Western Power Distribution said “much of the capacity available for generation connections” in the South West had now been “allocated”.
It explained: “We have now reached the point where one of the most critical routes in the South West is now up to its full capacity.
“This route is referred to as F-route. It runs 82km from Bridgwater Grid Supply Point to Seabank Grid Supply Point, in the Bristol docks area, comprising two separate circuits carried on steel towers.
“F-route is an important route out of the South West for generation. As a consequence, the connection of generation in any part of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Bristol Docks causes power to flow through F-route.
“The amount of connected and committed generation in the South West has caused the predicted flows through F-route to reach the maximum ratings of the circuits.”
Western Power Distribution said it was working with the National Grid to upgrade the link in response to the planned second generation nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point. Planning permission for the scheme was submitted in 2014.
Current plans are for most of that work to be finished by 2020 but that is subject to planning consent and other potential delays.
As a result, the firm said connection to the network would be delayed by “3-6 years” or until the National Grid scheme had been completed.
Last October, the Government announced an end to subsidies to farmers for large-scale solar schemes.
The Western Power announcement also follows an announcement from the Department of Energy and Climate Change to incentivise organisations to install more large scale rooftop systems instead of solar farms.
Renewable energy firms in the region said the news will not just affect solar or wind farms, but any other businesses which are considering investing in renewables to offset their own energy bills and reduce their environmental impact.
Mark Smith, of Cornish renewable energy installer ZLC Energy Ltd, said: “The news from Western Power is massive and gives the industry a wake-up call of what is to come.
“Commercial installation make up a huge and growing part of the whole renewable installation market across the region and these could now be under threat. This is likely to have a huge impact on jobs and the sector as a whole.”
Last year, there was a record surge in the number of solar panels in the region, accounting for 67% of the total annual increase in energy produced from renewable sources.
But businesses without existing permission to connect to the “green” link will not now be allowed to export electricity to the National Grid. Their choice will either be to abandon their projects, waste the electricity or store it for later use.
A spokeswoman for Cornwall-based Kensa Heat Pumps said there could be a silver lining for other technology.
She added: “Perhaps this restriction will encourage adoption of less obtrusive renewable technologies, such as ground source heat pumps, which are able to take advantage of all the “renewable” electricity produced in the region and, due to their nature, are completely unobtrusive visually while able to provide the many rural, off gas grid homes across the region with clean, low-cost heating and domestic hot water.”
Peter Cunningham, chairman of Falmouth-based Wattstor agreed, saying: “The mantra of our business is to generate energy locally, store it locally, and use it locally – don’t send your power anywhere.
“Our systems achieve this by diverting surplus, unused, free renewable power normally passed to the grid to charge batteries and provide free hot water for later use.
“This means that anyone wanting to install large scale renewables in the next few years can still do so without incurring massive connection fees.”
Giant solar farm loses plans appeal
A solar farm big enough to power 1,800 homes has been turned down on appeal because of its impact on the landscape.
A project to build the solar farm on a 10.5-acre site not far from the Halwell Business Park, near Totnes, was first refused by South Hams District Council in November 2013.
Developers Lightsource LPV86 Ltd appealed the decision.
But it has now been refused by planning inspectors who feared the huge renewable energy scheme would have a detrimental effect on the character and appearance of the landscape.
In his judgment, the planning inspector said: “As the landscape character summary describes, where there are views they tend to be extensive.
“The extent of the panels would give them a prominence close to the horizon.
“They would appear as an alien feature very different in character to the existing buildings at Halwell Business Park, which have the appearance of simple agricultural structures in keeping with this rural agricultural area.
“While the landscape might have the capacity to absorb more agricultural buildings, the proposal would have a very different industrial, rather than agricultural, impact.
“Grass growing beneath the panels, and/or sheep grazing around them, would to some extent, be screened by the panels themselves and so would do little to reinforce the agricultural character of the area.”
He added: “The proposal would have an adverse local impact on character.
“In terms of visual impact, there would be extensive and very significant detrimental impacts from various viewpoints.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding