That onshore / offshore UK / not UK plan in full

On the subject of interconnectors, I had a presentation made to me last week of a scheme called ‘Greenwire’ that is … er… about interconnectors but it isn’t. It’s also about offshore wind, but it isn’t. It’s also about on-shore wind, but isn’t really either. What it does seem to do is deliver possibly 3gw of installed capacity of renewables to the UK’s arsenal of low-carbon power, so the hand of the developer should be bitten off  just for that, but I suspect there will be a lot of protocol to be worked through first before any hands can be proffered up for biting.

So let’s see if I can describe the plan in one breath. It essentially entails developing  up to 3gw installed wind power at about twenty sites in the centre of Ireland. These sites are connected between themselves and then onto two large interconnectors  of 2.5gw capacity running across the Irish Sea to land in north and south Wales, and from thence feed into the Grid.  Good news, apparently: the UK gets two new interconnectors.  But… this possibility is for the future: in the immediate term the wind farms only would be connected to the interconnectors and not to the Irish Grid. That is, they would exclusively provide power for the UK, which is why I have described it as I have.

It is,  in essence a large offshore wind farm, with landing interconnectors of shorter distance than those that will be landing round three wind farm power from the Dogger bank. But of course the offshore wind farm is on shore: just not our on-shore.  And because it will in the first instance be connected exclusively into the UK, it will perform exactly the function that a large round three wind farm does, except that the power can be delivered, it is estimated at about two-thirds of the cost:  a little higher in price than UK onshore turbines, but much cheaper than ‘proper’ offshore.

So now to the protocol: would it be ‘imported’ power, like any import from a Norwegian or Icelandic interconnector might be? Clearly not, since it is not , as it were, touching the ground anywhere else other than the UK, although other, future supplies through the interconnector would be. So if it isn’t would it qualify for UK ROCs, or later for CfDs?  I would have thought so, except that, as matters stand it can’t since the ROC regime specifically excludes reward to power sourced beyond UK boundaries.  But if it did qualify, what kind of ROC/CfD would fit the bill? It is offshore , so would it get 2 ROCs? Probably not, because it … er… isn’t eventually actually offshore. But then it lands on the coast, so it must be. And it is more expensive to deliver, because it is landed, so perhaps 0.9 ROC wouldn’t be appropriate. My head hurts. I would think that a smart government might provide for some intermediate system to accommodate it. And there is some very, very buried indication that government might be thinking about this. This is what appears on p88 of the CFD Operational Framework document:

“CfDs may also be used to support generation that is located outside of the UK should the Government make the decision to do so. Before taking that decision, consideration would be given to how the CfD could apply to low-carbon generating plant located outside of the UK“.

The Irish government certainly is:  here’s what the Irish Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte said on May 28th:

“Given the scale of our wind resources, in the medium term we could be exporting wind energy on a scale that matches the total electricity consumption of the country. “We use 6 to 7 Gigawatts ourselves each year and I believe we could be exporting the same quantum to the UK and beyond in the coming years.”

Quite whether this means a ‘captured’ export remains  to be fully clarified, and there is at first thought, something odd about planting large number of turbines on someone else’s land and then taking all the product – but then I’ve just advocated doing almost that with Iceland’s geothermal energy, so there isn’t really a difference in principle. It would be interesting to see whether this sort of proposal gets the support of the 101 Conservative anti-winders. Is onshore wind OK so long as it’s someone else’s onshore wind?

I think that the bottom line of all this would be that the UK would gain two substantial interconnectors and a very large secure and permanent addition to low carbon capacity, probably well before 2020 so we should go for it. We just need to lock several very smart DECC officials in a room with wet towels wrapped round their heads to work out the details.

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