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Short circuiting wind farms

Last updated on 11/05/2016

Since writing about the chance of the forty per cent renewable electricity target not being achieved by 2020, I am becoming more and more convinced we will fall short.


By how much it’s impossible to say. Just to recap; the Department of Enterprise is conducting a cost benefit analysis to judge whether it’s worthwhile going all the way to the forty per cent level or if a lower figure might make more economic sense.


NIE has indicated that with the current proposed investment of £60 million, through the Medium Term Plan, by 2017 there should be around 1000 MW of installed renewable capacity, mostly large scale wind, supplying around 27% of our electricity needs. It will take a further £420 million investment to achieve the estimated1600 MW installed capacity that is required to deliver 40% of demand.


The investment splits into two quite separate projects: the North South Interconnector which will cost £100 million and £320 million to strengthen the grid. 


The Interconnector is currently in the doldrums while Eirgrid prepares its planning application for the Southern part of the scheme. By the middle of next year the project however should be under consideration at a public enquiry here. If approval is given, even if land has to be vested, building could start in 2017 with completion by 2020. It should be pointed out that the Interconnector is needed even if there were no more building of large scale renewables. It would improve security of supply and save consumers money.


The strengthening of the grid is an altogether different matter. Much of it is required for the installation of more renewables. At its heart is a reinforcing of the 275kV network with new lines installed both to the West and to the North. It may not quite be an all or nothing investment but obviously there wouldn’t be much point in building it half way! It will be up to SONI in consultation with the Department of Enterprise and the Energy Regulator to decide how much will be constructed.


So what’s the Department of Enterprise going to do? It’s in a bit of a quandary. Here’s why. With the 40% target still in place and the existing regulations in force, if for example I wanted to create a wind farm, I would only have to pay to connect it to the NIE network, a sum which admittedly could be significant. The cost of strengthening the grid to take this new source of power, which could be very large, would be spread across all users of the whole network. 


It might make little economic sense to bring my wind farm onto the system given where it was sited but there’s little anyone could do to stop me. I might for a time have to suffer so called non firm access to the network meaning I wouldn’t be guaranteed getting my power out or receiving a payment if I were thus curtailed. But in time when, at the customers’ expense, the network was reinforced in order to take my output, I would get a regular income.. 


The Department might be tempted to try to stop me by insisting that no wind farms be built in areas where the grid was especially weak but that could well leave it open to a challenge of discrimination from me.


That suggests that the Department, if it feels a £420 million investment to reach the 40% target, is not justified on cost grounds might just simply introduce a moratorium on the building of wind farms It wouldn’t need to ban more wind farms. All it has to do it reduce the renewables target to say thirty five per cent or lower. If it were minded to go along that route, it would be unlikely to give notice of its intention. That would just encourage a last minute rush to beat the deadline. No, the likelihood is that when you hear about a reduction in the forty per cent renewables target, it will already be in force.



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