Lightsource Renewable Energy is looking at installing two solar farms in Northern Ireland that will share a grid connection.
The UK’s largest developer had already received planning permission for a 6.5MW site at 20 Knockcairn Road in Crumlin back in the summer of 2014. At the time, the environment minister Mark H Durkan welcomed the solar farm, describing it as “good news for renewable energy in Antrim”.
Durkan added: “This application was turned around in under four months which demonstrates my commitment to improving service delivery and supporting the green economy.”
Lightsource is now looking at building another solar farm on nearby land, north of 20 Knockcairn Road. The proposed 4.12MW site will share a grid connection with the Knockcairn site, despite operating on a different landholding.
Speaking to Northern Ireland's committee for enterprise, trade and investment in March 2014, Nick Boyle, Lightsource's CEO explained that the country's grid is often a hindrance to a project. He said: “Whether we care to admit it or not, the grid in Northern Ireland is extremely old. I will not say 'antiquated', but it is certainly in serious and significant need of an upgrade.”
Boyle continued by explaining that the unique approach to grid connection in Northern Ireland hampers the speed at which solar can deploy. He added: “In mainland GB, we can get third parties that have been signed off to do work on behalf of the grid. Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) does not allow you to do that; it has to do the work. There are two issues with that. One is price: there is no competitiveness. The second is speed: it has only a finite number of individuals doing the work. Also, in Northern Ireland, you have no independent connection providers (ICPs). Nobody else can do the connection; it is NIE or nobody. Unfortunately, this monopoly situation again conspires against us.”
Lightsource estimates that the two solar farms will generate enough electricity to power 2,650 local homes every year they operate if they are given the go-ahead.