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Policy News, BB200609

Experts advise on Priority Interconnection Plan

27.11.2006

The European Commission’s Energy Directorate (DG TREN) has formed an Expert Group to obtain external advice on its intended Priority Interconnection Plan for electricity and gas networks. It held its first meeting in July. Apart from key stakeholders in the European gas and electricity sector, EWEA is also an active member of this group.

Referring to the Priority Interconnection Plan, this spring’s energy Green Paper said that “improving interconnection is one of the priorities to be addressed in order to complete the internal electricity market (…) private and public investments in infrastructure need to be stimulated and authorisation procedures accelerated. The greater the interconnection in the European electricity grid, the lower the need for spare capacity and, in time, the lower the costs. This is important at a time when Europe’s previous overcapacity is becoming history.”

The Green Paper announced that - by the end of 2006 - individual measures will be identified at Member State and Community level that are considered important as part of such a priority interconnection plan. Not surprisingly, making more effective use of the Trans European Networks instruments is mentioned as one of the measures to be considered.

European policies in relation to the Trans European Networks instruments are laid down in the “TEN-E” Guidelines. These identify interconnection projects of common and European interest among Trans-European electricity and gas networks. With respect to electricity, they apply to infrastructure (HV lines, submarine links and auxiliary equipment) that is used for interregional or international transmission or connection. The Guidelines present a closed list of very important and mature projects, projects of European interest, and the framework for increased coordination. In a major improvement on earlier editions, a revised version of the Guidelines provides for a procedure to declare projects of European interest - and assign a European Coordinator to them should they encounter significant delay.

These revised Guidelines contain the most recent lists of priority routes, projects of common interest and the sites of priority projects. Several of them are explicitly mentioned as important for renewables and wind energy. The priority routes EL5, EL6 and EL7, for example, are identified for offshore wind power. EL5 encompasses links between the UK and Continental and Northern Europe, EL6 relates to the Ireland – UK connection, and EL7 covers the link between Denmark and Germany and the Baltic ring. The list of identified projects of common interest also contains a number designated as explicitly relevant for renewable energy in Italy, Portugal, Germany and Belgium.

In practice, however, an increase in renewable energy – one of the criteria for selecting priority projects – has rarely been used as an argument for selecting them. In general, the transmission and interconnection needs resulting from increased integration of renewable energy has never been sufficiently investigated at a European level. Therefore, the identified priority axes and projects insufficiently reflect the needs for network improvement in view of large-scale implementation of wind power. Further investigations are needed to identify bottlenecks in interconnections that should be solved to enable increased penetration of wind power.

With these issues in mind, both the wind energy sector and the European TSOs have already initiated research projects specifically looking at wind energy integration at a European level. Both projects will formulate specific recommendations based on an investigation of continental power flows as influenced by the expected increase in installed wind power capacity. A well interconnected system offers a lot of advantages to wind power because it smoothes out fluctuations, increases predictability and capacity credit.

Apart from better connected onshore HV network, a transnational offshore HV network would also definitely be of interest for wind power, not only enabling ‘international’ connection of future offshore wind farms but also facilitating the international trade of electricity between Member States by providing alternative routes when existing lines are overloaded. An initiative of this type is being promoted as an Offshore Super Grid by Airtricity and ABB (see Wind Directions, July 2006).

The recently launched Expert Group offers the possibility to influence the European Commission on policies to support improved interconnection. The group will now collect input from its members on interconnection related issues, and suggestions of future actions to accelerate the implementation of important electricity and gas connections.

EWEA provided oral and written input for the first meeting of the group, which took place in Brussels on 24 July. The document supports the basic principles of the TEN-E Framework and the Commission’s efforts to create a well-functioning electricity market by working on a Priority Interconnection Plan. EWEA proposed that a European co-ordinator for the integration of renewable energy projects is appointed to ensure that the ‘renewables related objective of TEN-E is properly addressed’. In addition, EWEA proposed the appointment of an offshore Grid Regulator to address the access barriers, incentives and regulatory frameworks in the offshore territories in order to facilitate integration of offshore wind power.

In the near future EWEA will solicit input from its members on concrete interconnection related obstacles and barriers to wind power development in the various member states. In the longer term, EWEA will provide recommendations based on the results of the integration studies described above.

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