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Ex-National Grid Chief: Community Payouts Could Speed Up UK's Net-Zero Goals

  • Nick Winser's report proposes streamlining the planning process for building new electricity transmission lines from 12-14 years to just seven, in line with the timescales for the development of large offshore wind farms.
  • He suggests changes to planning rules to fast-track new transmission infrastructure as a strategic asset and establishing community benefits, including lump sum payments for households near new lines and a community fund for areas affected by new projects.
  • Winser also calls for reforms to the queueing system for new projects and the rapid development of the Future Systems Operator to oversee the country’s electricity and gas systems, coordinate projects, and forecast supply and demand characteristics.
Energy Infrastructure

Households near new energy projects should be offered lump sum payments to boost community approval of needed infrastructure and ensure the rollout of new electricity lines, according to a new landmark report on grid connections.

Electricity networks commissioner Nick Winser has delivered his report to energy security secretary Grant Shapps, which advocates “speeding up the delivery of strategic electricity transmission lines”, which he described as “challenging but vital and achievable”.

The former National Grid chief executive said red tape must be slashed to ensure the rollout of new electricity lines can keep up with the building of new wind farms as the country scrambles to reach net zero.

Otherwise, the UK risks building wind farms which will be forced to remain idle, due to lack of connection infrastructure, he warned.

He forecasts the current timescales of 12-14 years for building new electricity transmission lines can be reduced to just seven if the planning process is streamlined – which could require payouts to ease local complaints and obstructions.

This would bring the development time scale in line with large offshore wind farms being proposed in British waters.

He criticised the current planning regime where projects have to jump through multiple hoops including approval from individuals, communities, the planning inspectorate, local authorities and national governments.

Winser argued there needs to be a more “transparent, respectful and efficient” engagement with communities and people about the impact of new transmission infrastructure.

Winser is urging for planning rules to be changed on a national level so that new transmission infrastructure can be fast-tracked as a strategic asset, including underground cabling.

In return, he called on the government and Ofgem to establish community benefits including lump sum payments for households close to new lines, and a community fund to be be set up in communities affected by new projects.

This follows a consultation from the department for net zero and energy security, with Winser calling for a national fund to be governed locally with money spent on local schemes to decarbonise the energy system and people’s homes.

The government’s energy security strategy targets 50GW of offshore wind generation and a ramping up of nuclear from 7GW to 24GW as part of plans to reach net zero by 2050 and decarbonise the electricity grid by 2035.

The report forecasts that the fees paid to generators to switch off when supply outstrips demand could rise from around £500m-£1bn in 2022 to a peak of £2bn-£4bn per year by around 2030, even if all current investment is delivered on time.

Winser said: “The implications of being able to build wind generation faster than the associated connections to customers will be serious: very high congestion costs for customers, and clean, cheap domestic energy generation standing idle, potentially for years.

“I believe that we must hit the more ambitious end of this and reduce the overall timescale to seven years. I am confident that this is achievable as long we streamline the process as proposed in the report.”

Speed up queue or risk electricity slow down

Alongside proposals for planning reforms, Winser has pushed for the queueing system for new projects to be streamlined.

While the UK has been successful in stimulating investment in generation from renewables in recent decades, this has not been matched with investment in electricity transmission networks.

Currently operating on a first-come first-serve basis, the queue to connect projects to the grid has become extremely congested, with more than 230GW of generation waiting, compared to 80GW of generation connected.Renewable energy developers and other connection customers are currently receiving connection offers for the 2030s, putting the plans for a green energy transition behind scheduled.

National Grid has outlined a five point plan to improve grid connections and has begun a consultation to allow developers to organise their own grid connections.

Overall, Winser unveiled 18 recommendations for the government, which also call for speeding up the development of the Future Systems Operator.

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This will oversee the country’s electricity and gas systems and organise a strategic spatial energy plan (SSEP) – a blueprint for co-ordinating the vast pipeline of projects across the country with local and national transition networks.

Ofgem and the government are working together to establish the FSO by next year under the Energy Security Bill.

“We need a SSEP for Great Britain. To reduce energy bills as much and as quickly as possible, we need bold decisions on energy policy right across the system. It is unrealistic to imagine that we can wait and see what energy sources and demands arise, then hope to build the necessary networks in time, so a SSEP will forecast the supply and demand characteristics and their likely whereabouts,” Winser said.

The government and National Grid have both been approached for comment.

By Nicholas Earl via CityAM

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