I've just written a Scotsman column about Dundee which refers to the way outside agencies – on both sides of the border –can make decisions that make or mar city development – especially in transport and energy. I've been tackled by Chris Mostyn of the National Grid over this criticism of; '….the Warwickshire-based National Grid plc whose laggardly upgrades have left existing Scottish renewables suppliers unable to connect to the grid - let alone offshore newcomers'. Chris says;
To clarify, National Grid plc does not own any electricity networks in Scotland. They are owned by Scottish Power and Scottish & Southern. He is right – apologies to National Grid.
I think I should have written; The key to success for the onshore and offshore wind industries is the London-based regulator Ofgem, whose oversight of the pricing regime leaves Scottish suppliers out of the market and the Warwickshire-based National Grid who calculate and implement these charges in all parts of the UK - including Scotland. This situation is exacerbated by SSE's laggardly upgrades in the North of Scotland and Scottish islands which, when set alongside Ofgem and National Grid's punitive charges, mean consented renewable energy projects are often unable to connect to the grid.
Right – I realise even this will be questioned by some! Many councillors and renewables projects do complain about grid connection delays and costs - so I've tried to come up with an explanation of what happens and who is responsible for grid connections. Thanks to an energy specialist (who prefers to remain nameless!) When the electricity industry was privatised in the nineties, the high-voltage transmission network (shifting large amounts of power around the country) in England and Wales was parcelled off as National Grid, but in Scotland, it was split and passed (in the north) to Scottish Hydro and (in the south) to ScottishPower.
Large windfarms tend to connect to the transmission network, while smaller ones more often connect to the distribution network (though not a hard and fast rule). Connection delays to both can happen, especially in remoter areas, and some projects now connect with a contract that allows the network operator to demand that output is turned down or off if the network can't handle it.
Just to confuse things though further though National Grid is the electricity transmission "System Operator" for the UK. That means connecting to the network and paying for connection across the whole UK is the responsibility of National Grid plc. As well as this, National Grid owns the electricity transmission system in England and Wales – though as mentioned it's owned north of the border by Scottish Power and SSE in their respective areas. But the commercial contracts for connecting to the Scottish system sit with National Grid. Because energy distribution is effectively a monopoly there is a regulator in place, Ofgem which sanctions investment in the transmission grid and sets the allowed rate of return for such capital investments. It also oversees and approves the method by which National Grid collects annual user charges from energy suppliers connected to the UK electricity transmission network. So who is holding up grid connection for Scotland's big new renewables projects? I've heard schemes in southern Scotland have been held up by English grid constraints but I'm not sure if that's the national grid or local distribution networks.
Clearly though the bigger Scottish logjam is the responsibility of Scottish Power and SSE – and yet the Scottish Governments only control over the grid is in planning – section 37 of the Electricity Act. So if you take a new project like the big Viking Energy project on Shetland (discussed at a recent Nordic Horizons picture by Cllr Drew Ratter pictured with Jenny Marra MSP and Soren Hermansen from Samsoe), the scale means the new Beauly-Denny line may not be big enough to take the Shetland wind energy plus other onshore wind and hydro projects already in development - so a new connection to the grid, either in central Scotland or to England may be required. That will be hugely expensive and needs lengthy scrutiny by Ofgem and the board of SSE, AND if it comes onshore in central/southern Scotland, could involve Scottish Power if new infrastructure is needed in their patch – not to mention big planning issues at both ends. Simple. Not.
Which does sort of underline my original point. How easy is it for a city like Dundee to know if they are backing winners when they encourage local turbine manufacturers because offshore wind projects need grid connection – and it's such a complex matter with responsibility shared across the border, across public bodies, regulators and private companies. Phew.