Electricity Transmission Network (Continued)

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 798 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michelle Mulherin: Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin] The offers exceed the capacity on the line and the line is saturated. This, and the constraints and curtailments that EirGrid's decision will impose on them pose a challenge for the financial viability and realisation of projects that have come a long way through the planning process and are due to sign connection agreements under Gate 3 this summer. They will not be as bankable as they were and the money that people have already spent on grid connection and the planning and development of their projects is rendered more speculative because they cannot be sure of the outcome.

I ask the Minister to be innovative. We cannot wait till 2019. I know there is a plan to develop a circuit between Ballina and Castlebar which would reinforce the line and allow the 340MW uprate. Part of the area would be an environmentally sensitive special area of conservation. We will not build a line there overnight. It will take at least five years. There is a great deal of new smart technology in this area including special protection and dynamic line rating schemes. I ask that some of the projects in the Mayo area receive special attention because of the way they have been discommoded due to EirGrid's decision, as well as being a pilot project. I am sure this problem does not affect only Mayo. I am sure it is a problem in other areas with massive resources but no grid. The Minister could direct EirGrid to invest in this and give a commitment to do so by the end of summer so that people are not required to sign connection agreements under Gate 3 and spend hundreds of thousands of euro when they do not know if they can get finance from the bank to build the projects. We must consider other solutions if we are to achieve the Minister's objective which is to increase installed capacity per annum. Otherwise, we will not reach the 2020 targets because of the weaknesses in the grid in the areas where we have the resource.

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I can confirm that I was able to make several changes to REFIT 1 and 2 which I announced this morning at the spring conference of the Irish Wind Energy Association and that they will meet the requests that Deputy Mulherin has been making to me for some time in respect of the operation of REFIT. They will also greatly enhance the installed capacity in the seven or eight years to 2020 which should put us in a position to meet our targets comfortably. As Deputy Mulherin knows it is EirGrid's role, as the national transmission system operator, to develop and upgrade the transmission system in order to meet ongoing and future electricity needs.

  The European smart grid task force defined a smart grid as "an electricity network that can cost effectively integrate the behaviour and actions of all users connected to it - those who generate, those who consume and those who do both - in order to ensure an economically efficient, sustainable power system with low losses and high levels of quality and security of supply and safety".

  Smart grids are not smart meters and vice versa. However, smart grids can include smart meters. Simply put, smart grids are electrical networks which have intelligence built into them in order to enable more efficient operation of the entire electricity supply system and to facilitate distributed, embedded generation and demand control measures. They are enabling for the system operator and also for generators and electricity customers. The smart grid is a key enabler of a future low carbon electricity system that facilitates demand side efficiency, increases the share of renewable and distributed generation and enables consumer participation.

  I understand that EirGrid has recently provided the Deputy with a briefing on how the overall Grid25 strategy will include the deployment, where appropriate, of smart grid technologies that will help system operators use grid infrastructure more efficiently. EirGrid's Grid25 programme is a series of projects to upgrade the current electricity system while continuing to operate and maintain a safe, secure and reliable system. EirGrid has extensive work under way in the smart grid sphere, including its involvement in the Smart Grid Innovation Hub in a collaborative initiative by EirGrid and the National Digital Research Centre, NDRC, and in the EirGrid announcement of demonstration projects in the smart grid sector, as well as through EirGrid's DS3 programme in the facilitation of renewables area, for delivering a secure, sustainable electricity system.

  EirGrid is also continuing to implement and trial smart grid technologies such as real-time condition monitoring tools, advanced demand side management techniques for example, smart devices in the home, extensive use of ICT infrastructure to communicate from the National Control Centre to key grid users and use of innovative transmission infrastructure technology, for example, super conductors, all allowing for more efficient and secure operation of the power system in real time. EirGrid and the Northern Ireland operator, SONI, support several demonstration projects in the smart grid sector in order to encourage the development of a smarter grid in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

  The Government, in its policy statement on the strategic importance of transmission and other energy infrastructure which was published in July 2012, underlined the need and urgency for new energy infrastructure to be developed both in the national interest and from a European perspective. In addition to highlighting the importance of the interests of individual energy consumers, the policy statement was conscious that public acceptance and understanding of energy infrastructure is a major challenge. This requires public confidence that projects and programmes adhere to the highest international standards of safety, health and environmental and visual impact, and technology choice.

  Continued progress made with the Grid 25 programme and other essential energy infrastructure initiatives will have positive impacts for all local communities in underpinning regional and economic development and jobs. As regards Deputy Mulherin's argument I am aware that EirGrid is considering at present whether measures would be possible to facilitate the connection of additional wind generation in areas of Ireland, including Mayo, while the development of vital grid infrastructure developments is ongoing in parallel.

Deputy Michelle Mulherin: Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin I thank the Minister for his response. I acknowledge that I have had discussions with EirGrid which were helpful. I am asking that something more firm, like a commitment, would be given by next summer because investors in projects are being asked to spend a lot of money on signing up connection agreements by that date and they need to know where they stand in respect of the implementation of smart grid technology to stretch capacity on the existing structure. Unless we take this innovative approach and try to upgrade it and get more out of it, which the technology allows, we will not realise our wind or wave or any other capacity potential because the final infrastructure is many years down the line. We need to consider all the other options. My understanding is that the cost of some of the smart grid technologies would be borne to a great extent by the generators. I am not saying that there are not cases where there may be some socialisation of the cost. These projects are very far advanced and need this type of assurance from EirGrid and while I respect the fact that they have to do their job the Minister's interest is in achieving the renewable energy targets for wind-generated electricity. I am asking that they might be guided in that direction.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte The developers will have received a fillip from this morning's announcement, and the necessary certainty that they seek. The consultation process in respect of curtailment and scheduling took a great deal longer than anybody could have predicted three and a half years ago.

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