Farmers frustrated with grid connection problems

Tuesday, 17 June, 2014

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has written to NIE and the Utility Regulator to express farmers’ frustration with the on-going grid connection problems. UFU Rural Enterprise Chairman Gary Hawkes said; “The situation is causing a real headache for farmers especially since NIE continues to create a high degree of uncertainty as they issue an increasing number of ‘conditional offers’.”

Many farmers looking to diversify their businesses do look to renewable energy but the application process leaves much to be desired. Currently, a farmer applying ends up in a queue and NIE is unable to tell them how many people are ahead of them in that queue. This leaves farmers in the dark as to how much spare capacity there is in the grid so there is no guarantee that their application will even proceed.

Gary Hawkes continued; “The UFU is conscious of the fact that farmers will already have paid upfront cost for things like planning permission, feasibility studies and in many cases a significant amount of money will have already been committed to materials and/or equipment. This initial financial outlay combined with high levels of uncertainty is very off-putting for farmers and if NIE are serious about renewable energy and meeting the energy needs of Northern Ireland, they need to find a solution to this grid issue and fast.”

The UFU has requested a meeting with NIE and the Utilities Regulator seeking to challenge the concept of conditional offers and how they are managed. 

Gary Hawkes added; “There is an urgent need to improve the transparency of the grid connection process and we want to work with NIE on that. However, farmer patience is wearing thin and if a suitable solution can’t be found we want to ensure that farmers who have already submitted an application and wish to do so can voluntarily withdraw without significant financial loss.”
The UFU are also calling for contestability in the electricity market, with the hope that this will open up the grid connection process to competition and ensure that the small scale renewables are able to efficiently connect to the grid.