Grid Capacity Issues Threaten Net Zero

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By Paul Homewood


A Tory mayor has urged ministers to get a grip of nationwide electricity grid problems that threaten to torpedo a £300m waste-to-power plant.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen warned that capacity problems across swathes of the country were putting at risk the Government’s plans to improve Britain’s energy security and cut carbon emissions.

His intervention comes as the issue threatens the viability of the proposed Tees Valley Energy Recovery Facility, a massive incinerator which will generate power by burning household waste from across the North East.

The project, backed by a group of seven councils, had been scheduled to come online in 2026.

But the scheme has been thrown into doubt after the National Grid said it cannot connect the facility to the electricity network until 2031 at the earliest, when capacity upgrades will be finished.

It is just one among hundreds of projects across the UK – including a large number of renewable energy schemes – that are stuck in a growing queue due to widespread grid connection delays.

As the problem grows, ministers are being separately warned that rising costs are imperilling proposals for a £10bn wind farm scheme, and face complaints that Britain is falling behind international competitors in developing cutting-edge nuclear plants.

Mr Houchen warned that a failure to grasp red tape issues strangling the energy industry would ultimately translate into higher bills for households.

He said: “It is going to be difficult to deliver energy security – which in the medium to long term could mean lower energy prices – unless the Government gets to grips with the regulation of how the grid operates and the capacity of the grid full-stop.

“That has not just a knock-on impact for our economic prosperity, but also the Government’s targets to reach net zero by 2050.

“If you want everybody to have an electric car, at the moment the grid can’t support that. None of our energy security goals, or the net zero goals, can be achieved unless this problem with the grid is tackled.”

The lead council behind the Tees Valley incinerator scheme last week confirmed that without an agreement to export electricity – to the grid or a private buyer – the project would be unviable.

Denise McGuckin, managing director of Hartlepool Borough Council, said: “The Tees Valley Energy Recovery Facility project is a vital piece of infrastructure for the North-East, which more than one and a half million people living and working across the region will rely on every day to safely and sustainably treat their general rubbish, but it will only come to fruition with a viable energy offtake.”

Ben Houchen forgot to tell us how many billions this would cost the country, and who would pay for it! (An awful lot, and electricity users).

But his comments identify a fundamental flaw in the chase for renewable energy. Schemes like Teeside’s should be made to pay for all of the extra network connections and upgrades needed. How many would be viable if that were the case?

Successive governments have simply ignored the massive cost of increasing the capacity of the grid, both at a national and local distribution level, which their policies will require. Kick the can down the road and let someone else have the problem, seems to be the motto.

Meanwhile the article goes on to report about the rising costs of offshore wind power:

Sweden’s Vattenfall plans to build the giant Vanguard and Boreas wind farms off the Norfolk coast, which would be two of the biggest so far in Britain. Analysts expect they will cost more than £10bn.

But project director Rob Anderson said surging costs are damaging the investment case and warned that the price wind developers are set to be paid for electricity under government-backed contracts might not be enough.

He said: “While we’re ready to press the button, these challenges are making it difficult.”

Vattenfall has yet to take a final decision on either project, meaning it is not yet certain to go ahead, with Mr Anderson’s comments likely to set alarm bells ringing in Whitehall.

It is already evident that the low prices agreed under CfDs for wind farms not yet built are simply not viable. Now it would appear that the rising costs of materials and interest rates are making matters worse.

This increases the likelihood that new wind farms coming on stream in the next few years will simply opt out of their CfDs. Worse still, projects like Vattenfall’s may never even get off the ground, unless the government offers a much higher price.