Gaelectric nets planning permission for Northern Ireland co-located solar and wind farm

Renewables developer Gaelectric has won planning permission for a 5MW solar farm near Pomeroy, County Tyrone, which is to share a grid connection with the firm’s Inishative Wind Farm.

The wind project is currently under construction and due to complete later this year. Gaelectric will now look to add the solar array’s generation capacity to its existing grid connection.

However the development could be complicated by a proposal from domestic grid operators Northern Ireland Electricity and SONI, made two months ago, arguing that applications to install additional generation capacity exceeding the maximum export capacity of a connection should be included in a “batching” process.

If accepted, the Alternative Connection Application and Offer Process Proposal would make it so that all applications within a particular batch need to be assessed and awarded together.

Gaelectric confirmed it is to seek derogation from batching on the Pomeroy project because the maximum export capacity for the existing grid connection will not be exceeded but Mike Denny, development director at Gaelectric, said it was important the proposals are kept flexible.

“It is important that the NIE/SONI consultation on grid connections for renewable energy allows the modification of existing and paid for connection agreements, and avoids delays in co-locating solar projects that do not require any increase in the maximum export capacity of existing connections,” he added.  

Speaking of the Pomeroy development meanwhile, Denny said that co-locating solar with wind made sense due to their complementary generation profiles.

“Solar tends to be strongest during the longer and brighter days of late spring, summer and early autumn when the wind tends to blow less. Wind on good sites blows most of the time, but more consistently from late autumn right through to the springtime.

In this way the profiles of solar and wind generation complement each other, helping us use limited grid capacity and other essential infrastructure more efficiently, and significantly reducing environmental impacts into the bargain,” he added.

Co-locating solar with wind has been experimented with several times in the UK before. Swedish energy giant Vattenfall added 5MW of solar generation to its Parc Cynog wind farm earlier this year, while Ecotricity unveiled plans to develop “hybrid” solar and wind energy parks in October 2015.