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Large Solar Farms: National Grid

Volume 748: debated on Tuesday 16 April 2024

3. If she will make an assessment of the ability of the National Grid to connect to large solar farms in (a) 2024 and (b) 2029. (902275)

Network companies are expected to deliver connections by the date stipulated in customer connection agreements. Reforms to accelerate the connection process and build times for transmission infrastructure will help to ensure that expectation is met.

May I welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities and urge him to focus on this particular issue? According to a recent report by the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association, 44% of investors in solar power say there are problems getting interconnections with the grid. We know there are issues in the distribution network, which means that the transmission network is probably the only place that large-scale utility solar farms can connect, and people are worried that only particular parts of that network accept contracts. Will the Minister look at that in detail, because there are major concerns in my constituency that there will be connections at Eaton Socon power station, which is one of the few places where contracts are being offered?

That is absolutely understood. As set out in the spring Budget, the Government are working with Ofgem and network companies to release more network capacity and to prevent speculative projects from obtaining and retaining network capacity. That, alongside faster network infrastructure delivery, should result in more capacity across the country and help to reduce any clustering of generation projects.

National grid infrastructure is critical to the delivery and connection of these solar farms, as it is for onshore and offshore wind. The importance and urgency of that was stressed by the Winser review of August last year. The Government have got until 2030 to deliver this policy. Will the Minister update us on the transmission acceleration action plan?

The hon. Member is spot on. We are proud to have gone from 7% renewable energy to 47%. To go further, we must hit those ambitious targets by unlocking additional investment. For example, through the accelerating strategic transmission investment process, we anticipate unlocking a further £198 billion of investment by 2030. Alongside the changes I have already set out, that will be key to getting that extra power generated through solar.

Surely it is not an adequate justification for building solar farms on 10,000 acres within a six-mile radius that Gainsborough is close to the national grid serving the old power stations. Is that not gross overdevelopment on good arable land, and should the inspector not take account of this overdevelopment?

I understand my right hon. Friend’s raising this point. That is why it is clear in planning policy and guidance that solar projects should be directed to previously developed or non-greenfield land. That was the message we reinforced in the January national planning statement to ensure that we reduce unnecessary clustering.

May I also welcome the Minister to his new role? According to National Grid, £58 billion of investment is needed to meet our 2035 decarbonising target. British electricity demand is expected to rise by 64% in the next 10 years, and the current system is still designed around electricity sources of the past, such as coal. New cables need to be built to bring electricity from renewable energy sources, as we have already heard. What assessment has the Department made of the impact this problem is having on green investment?

I thank the hon. Member for her kind words. I enjoyed working with her on many occasions in my former roles. The Government have continued to work with the public and business to unlock additional investment. For example, through the connections action plan, we expect an additional 40 GW of accelerated collection dates to be released, which will particularly help in the area of solar. We are also looking at the £85 billion of investment we have unlocked since the autumn statement through the transmission acceleration action plan. Those are all vital components to hit our ambitious targets.