Enviromena Horsey Levels Solar Farm
Blackfinch and Enviromena solar farm goes live due to National Grid scheme. Image: National Grid

Reading-based renewables company Enviromena has brought the Horsey Levels solar farm in Somerset online, marking the first live project from National Grid’s acceleration scheme.

The project, for which Blackfinch Energy is an investor, is located near Bridgwater and is expected to generate 27,550MWh of clean electricity each year.

Somerset Council granted unanimous support to the Horsey Levels solar farm granted the project planning consent through delegated power in 2022. It is also worth noting that the project connects to the electricity grid on land owned by Somerset Council.

Horsey Levels has successfully connected to the grid ahead of its original planned connection date, which was achieved through the Technical Limits acceleration programme.

This programme is part of the Energy Networks Association’s (ENA) three-point plan, allowing distribution schemes to connect before large-scale transmission reinforcement work has finished. It is currently accelerating the commissioning of projects by an average of over five years.

Steve Cross, southwest operations director for National Grid Electricity Distribution, said: “We are investing £500 million over the next five years to ensure electricity generation customers can connect to our network, and we are working closely with industry, Ofgem and government to streamline the process and accelerate connection times for active projects.

“Horsey Levels is the first of many renewable projects to benefit from this concerted and coordinated approach and will undoubtedly make a valuable contribution to the south-west’s pursuit of net zero targets.”

Enviromena CEO Chris Marsh said: “We are delighted to energise the first accelerated project as part of National Grid’s reforms to help bring forward the connection dates of renewable energy projects.

“Following the notification of the delay of this important project, our team has worked closely with the National Grid Electricity Distribution and the ESO in order to find solutions to help accelerate this project and other similarly delayed projects.”

David Wildash, National Grid ESO’s interim director of engineering and customer solutions, added: “Through our plans to speed up the process and with support for wider industry initiatives, the ESO has facilitated the acceleration of 40GW of connection offers, but we know there are lots more we all need to do.”

Queuing for the grid

Grid connections have become a hot commodity as the renewable energy sector has taken off in the UK, to the extent that trade association Solar Energy UK deemed the system as “descending into a farce”.

The nation’s grid is not set up to establish and maintain multiple smaller connections, leading to an excess number of projects in the pipeline, with some waiting on a connection date well into the 2030s.

One such project is Enviromena’s 30MW battery energy storage system (BESS) in Northumberland, which had its connection date further delayed to 2036 by Northern Powergrid (NPG).

The delay, however, occurred as a result of the Blyth grid supply point being removed from the distribution network operator’s (DNOs) Delegated Technical Limits connections acceleration programme due to “technical reasons,” despite being previously highlighted as an area where acceleration was possible.