Waits of a decade and more to link new wind and solar farms into transmission grids present the biggest risk to the UK missing its 2035 target to decarbonise electricity, Ofgem boss Jonathan Brearley said yesterday.
It is “simply not acceptable”, the regulatory chief said, that 20% of low carbon generation projects now in the NG’s and DNOs’ approval pipelines must wait ten years before reaching their offered connection dates. A further 40% have been offered connections beyond 2030.
“That pace is not compatible with our ambitions on cost, security, or Net Zero”, said Brearley told a conference in Birmingham.
“Polite queuing may well be in the very best of our British traditions, but it is simply not working here”.
He called for an end to ‘first come, first served’ management of connection applications. That had led to queues becoming blocked with projects based on outdated, now unviable business cases.
Between 60% and 70% of high-voltage transmission schemes never connect to the grid, the regulator calculates. More than half of today’s queued projects will wait five years or more to be offered a connection date.
Brearley welcomed this week’s proposals from National Grid ESO under its Connections Reform initiative for tighter management of links approval.
This says that projects which cannot meet predefined milestones will drop out of consideration, and without financial penalty. Such a two-stage process could shorten connection waits for many schemes by between two and ten years, the ESO estimates.
National Grid chief executive John Pettigrew recently called for the ESO to be freed to make “anticipatory investment” to accommodate as yet unapproved renewables projects.
But Brearley maintained yesterday that Ofgem’s “invest and connect policy” has removed all barriers to National Grid investing in grid expansion and upgrades ahead of applications.
Ofgem piloted the new direction in December, accelerating £20bn investment in connecting up 26 offshore wind projects. It has launched a consultation to extend this approach to other technologies.
“This problem needs to be tackled now”, said Brearley. “We will work with everyone across the industry to make sure that we do. But if we don’t go far enough, then yes we will have to change the regime to make sure that we do so”.
On Net Zero, Brearley told the conference that the regulator’s board favoured taking on an explicit responsibility for delivering the target. It would sit easily beside the body’s duty to defend consumers’ interests in Britain’s energy markets.