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Renewable Energy Projects: Connection to the Grid

Volume 731: debated on Tuesday 18 April 2023

8. What assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of lead times for connecting renewable energy projects to the grid. (904477)

17. What assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of lead times for connecting renewable energy projects to the grid. (904489)

Reducing connection timescales is a high priority for the Government. We will publish a connections action plan in the summer, which will articulate actions by Government, Ofgem and network companies to accelerate network connections for renewable energy and other projects.

It is a disgrace that while energy prices rocket, huge delays to grid connections are holding back the supply of renewable energy to UK homes and businesses. Wind farms coming online today were approved when Gordon Brown was in power. Even now, energy companies are having to wait for 13 years, until 2036, for connections for some projects. How on earth did it get this bad? Is it not true that the Tories have taken their eye off the ball on the National Grid, and it is now costing British families and businesses dear?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. It is interesting that she references Gordon Brown, because it was under his Administration that the decision was taken not to invest in new nuclear, which, by the way, would have solved part of the problem we find ourselves in right now. However, I think everyone in the House would acknowledge that the situation regarding grid connection times is not acceptable. That is why we have commissioned the Electricity Networks Commissioner, Nick Winser, to submit recommendations to the Government on how we accelerate delivery of network infrastructure. He will publish his report in June.

The Minister completely failed to answer the question. The CEO of Solar Energy UK has said that solar infrastructure projects are being delayed into the 2030s—15 years or more—meaning that operators will not connect them to the grid. Renewable energy is cheap and will help to bring down the current absurd energy prices. Are the Government purposely trying to keep energy prices high and at the mercy of fossil fuels, firmly leading us on the highway to climate hell?

Frankly, that question is utterly ridiculous. It is because of the Government’s investment in new renewable technology that we are powering ahead and leading the world in reaching our net zero obligations. Half our energy now comes from renewable sources. I have already acknowledged that the delays to grid connections are completely unacceptable, which is precisely why we commissioned Nick Winser to develop his report. We will be publishing his recommendations in June.

Just to bring down the temperature a little bit, the Minister referenced the Government’s consultation later this year on how the Government, with Ofgem, will drive forward investment in the grid. Is the Government’s vision for more investment in a system similar to what we have now? To what extent do they want to move towards a more decentralised system for renewable investment in the grid, so that local communities can invest their own efforts and resources in developing their own renewable energy?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. In March, we launched consultations on community benefits for transmission network infrastructure and on supporting the consenting process to revise energy national policy statements. We are also supporting a private Member’s Bill on alternative dispute resolution for compensation disputes over land.

The Minister will know that the east of England does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to renewables; we are investing in turbines and offshore wind. But he will also know that local communities across the entire region are horrified by National Grid’s plans to build pylons across the entire region, which will connect and increase more energy supply. They favour an offshore grid. Can I ask the Minister directly: what is he doing to work with the local community to deliver that option?

The east of England does do a lot of heavy lifting for renewables—almost as much as the north-east of Scotland—but this is not a competition. I am delighted to inform my right hon. Friend that I am visiting East Anglia next week to meet communities in the area. Indeed, I met producers and manufacturers yesterday to see what they can do to mitigate the impact on her local community and other communities in the region.

If we are prevented from building renewable power in the first place, connection times become rather a moot point. Will the Minister explain why he has failed to lift the ban on onshore wind, despite the Government saying that it would be lifted by the end of April?

This Government are committed to onshore wind as a huge part of our renewable energy mix—14 GW, in fact. We are also committed to new renewables offshore and to new nuclear, which the Labour party opposed for such a long time. It will be a whole collection of those new technologies and infrastructure projects that will help us drive our way towards our net zero ambitions and the cleanest and cheapest electricity in Europe.

That wasn’t very good, was it? The Government’s own offshore wind champion Tim Pick said last week that we will miss our 2030 offshore wind ambitions by more than 10 GW because of poor grid connections. Even with the lifting of the onshore ban—if we believe the Minister—developers will not invest given the prospect of a 13-year delay in grid connection. When will the Minister commit to a speedy programme of grid capacity building, to give onshore and offshore wind a good chance of success?

As I said, this country is leading the way in investment in new renewable technology. We acknowledge that there are difficulties connecting to the grid, and we are investing in improving that. Nick Winser’s report is coming in June, which will give recommendations to Government on how to reduce the timescale for connecting those new projects to the grid. That is the focus of this Government, not playing politics. We are taking real decisions to benefit this country, to cut our carbon emissions and to reduce energy bills across the piece.