Grid connection challenge is all in the planning

Planning permission for major new transmission lines to connect new low carbon energy sources to the transmission electricity grid can take more than three times as long as actual construction of the transmission lines a senior energy expert will say next week. 

Head of regulatory policy and commercial at ScottishPower Energy Networks Alan Michie will explain at the Connecting Projects to the Grid Conference next week that managing government and energy company expectations and making sure planning is properly programmed is a major focus for electricity transmission businesses. 

“Our challenge is how to get new, low carbon energy sources like wind and marine power from Scotland to the south.  One major scheme was provided with funding back in 2004 but did not start construction until 2012 once full planning consent was obtained , and is due to complete in 2015 some 11 to 12 years after funding was first agreed,” he said.

“Given the time it can take to build new electricity grid network, where we can we look to get the most out of our existing grid network through innovation and supportive commercial arrangements, we will.  However we also have to plan to ensure that there is sufficient transmission capacity in the medium to long term.”

Challenges in terms of planning are particularly intense on land where high profile transmission lines travel through remote and beautiful areas, Michie said.  Sub-sea links can be delivered quicker but are expensive. “We are a partner with National Grid in a joint venture to build a new 2200MW subsea link from Scotland to England.  Not only will this link support low carbon energy sources, but it will also improve security of supply across Great Britain.  Working closely with Ofgem and the Government we initiated the planning and tender process in 2009 and we then agreed full funding in 2012 following an intensive cost benefit assessment.  Construction of this £1B, 370km subsea link is now underway and we expect to complete the job by 2016.”

At the conference Michie will also discuss Ofgem’s RIIO regulatory framework for network companies – RIIO being shorthand for revenue based on incentives, innovation and outputs.  “Under the old regulatory model network companies were incentivised to cut costs.  The new RIIO model also incentivises cost minimisation but in addition allows Ofgem to look more favourably on additional investment if the end result benefits the customer through lower system costs.  An important feature of the RIIO framework is if we don’t invest in line with our business plan then our income is adjusted downwards.  Also, visibility of our workload helps our suppliers and contractors plan ahead“   Michie said.

ScottishPower Energy Networks has been funded to invest up to £3 Billion over the 8-year period from 2013 to 2021. 

Connecting Projects to the Grid takes place on 8 May.  More information here

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