A Tale of Two Islands



Here are two islands. Both are British. Off each island are good quality tidal flows. One island, however, has particularly strong tidal flows, getting on for as strong as one of the world’s strongest flows, in the Pentland Firth in Scotland.

Both islands are now looking to develop marine farms harnessing those flows to produce electricity for the National Grid. Both islands need to connect to the National Grid via a subsea interconnector. One island has an existing but underpowered interconnector: the other is at an advanced state of negotiation to build a powerful interconnector that links the island to France and the UK, and links its tidal stream array programme into the grid in the process.

Both islands have got really good schemes for tidal stream power, but one, perhaps because of the enormous potential of their offshore tidal race, is much larger than the other. In fact ten times as large, with the possibility of a further tenfold increase in capacity.

So far so good, eh? Well here it stops, because one island, because of its location and history, looks like it will be denied access to the Contract for Difference it will need to get its tidal flow scheme under way, even though there looks to be scope in future auctions for ‘further from market’ CfD allocations. The other will not, and I hope it succeeds shortly in gaining a supportive CfD allocation.

Oh all right, that’s the end of the mystification. The two islands are the Isle of Wight, British through and through, and looking to develop a 30MW array 2.5km off the south of the island in a joint development between Perpetuus Energy and the Isle of Wight council. Good for them: it looks like it will work really well.

The other one is Alderney. Alderney Renewable energy are promoting the FAB Link, one of the interconnectors identified by the Government as promoting greater resilience for the UK system, and proceeding well through the process of gaining agreements with Ofgem, National Grid and with their French equivalents. The Link would be from a site neat Cherbourg to Alderney, and then to a landing point near Exeter.  Feeding into this could be the product of the Alderney Race tidal array, initially comprising a consented 150 turbines about a mile off Alderney, and coming to about 300MW but with the prospect of an eventual 3GW deployment – which would be about the installed capacity of Hinkley C power station (if it gets built, that is). In fact, its initial deployment and future potential is in some ways similar to the much more trumpeted Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, which will have an initial installed capacity in the first lagoon of about the same amount, but will benefit from larger and cheaper subsequent installations. And on the basis of the way things are going, and especially if Hinkley C doesn’t get built or is further delayed beyond 2025, we surely need both schemes to get going. Alderney, by the way, could deploy from about 2020, using pretty uncomplicated technology – proven technology turbines sunk on sturdy supports to the seabed.

So what’s the problem? Well I mention the two islands because, as it happens the Isle of Wight is a county authority and really ‘British’ (and therefore gets to bid for a CfD) whereas Alderney, not far away, counts as British but not British, in that it is a ‘crown dependency’, and therefore doesn’t get to bid for a CfD because that privilege is reserved for, well you know, proper British places. In fact, I understand that the Secretary of State has written to Alderney Energy telling them that there is no go at the moment on a possible CfD because of the not-really-British problem. The fact that the development could have a huge impact on the UK’s electricity market and that Alderney WANT the power to go to Britain because they are, well, British as far as they are concerned is, I suppose, beside the point.

I know that DECC have thought for a few minutes about the issue, and indeed, when it appeared that some developments in Ireland might produce captured power for use in Britain (but based on wind blowing in Ireland) they actually wrote a consultative document on it (here), but nothing has transpired and the issue remains in limbo. So much so that there is clear danger that one of the single most potentially beneficial renewable energy projects there is for the UK based on one of the most potent and reliable sources of renewable energy which just so happens inconveniently to be sited off a crown dependency might not happen:  because it is not possible to transport the power of the Alderney race to, say, three miles off the coast of the Isle of Wight.

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