Efforts to pool developers’ resources to fund new grid connections could open up new sites for utility-scale solar in the UK, according to Lightsource Renewable Energy.
Distribution network operator (DNO) Western Power Distribution (WPD) has been organising workshops for renewable energy developers to discuss the potential of forming consortiums to pay for grid connections that can open up multiple sites that individually would not be economical.
COO Mark Turner told Solar Power Portal that it could not just increase the number of sites that are available, but also allow improve the suitability of the options available.
“It means we can put grid capacity in places where planning would be less of an issue then. It make places viable that previously passed on planning but failed on grid,” said Turner.
“If planning rules tighten than we have to make sure that we are taking the grid to the places where planning is possible,” he said.
With secretary of state for communities and local government Eric Pickles recently intervening in a solar park planning application and energy minister Greg Barker warning the industry that it must not develop on inappropriate sites, the pressure on planning issue is particucularly acute.
The abundance of suitable sites with no grid access is particularly keenly felt in Cornwall, added Turner, who has taken part in the work with WPD.
“At one point Cornwall County Council had a high aspirations for the renewables it wanted but that aspiration was way in excess of what the grid could deliver because there isn’t [enough] consumption in Cornwall. The extreme areas of the peninsula are the obvious ones where development activity has gone on but it has been grid constrained.”
Turner also said that the progress that WPD and the not for profit facilitator Regen SW had triggered, was also a sign of the UK solar industry growing up. He lamented the number of sites with pending applications but no sign of imminent development.
“There’s a proportion of capacity that’s deadlocked, its almost like land banking, only it’s not that conscious. We need to do things differently, the industry has matured, there are a number of reasonably sized players. They all come with different levels of security and investment, but you can now sit a group of people in a room that represents a significant portion of the UK industry and have a sensible conversation.
“Two years ago it was highly fragmented, you would have 50 or 100 people in a room and most of them wouldn’t have two farthings to rub together,” he said.
Turner said they are still up to six months away from forming a consortium with the first investment as much as two years away. He also said talks with other DNOs had been held at a high-level, but were not as advanced.
“One of the challenges is knowing that you are dealing with people that will still be able to put their hand in their pockets in two years time. WPD is being very proactive about thinking about these different options. The regulations don’t let them build capacity speculatively, they are putting that speculative development in the hands of the consortium.”
The rules under which the alliances would be formed have previously been used to allow groups looking to build new connections to meet their demand, such as for new housing developments or industrial parks.
Groups of generators have never before used the rules of Section 22 of the Electricity Act to agree new connections with a DNO.