SOLAR farms face a summer of power outages while the Island’s distribution network is upgraded – a move costing one community-energy company half its annual income and meaning investors and charities will lose out.
Furthermore, Wight Community Energy (WCE), which runs the 3.95MW Homestead Farm, at Newbridge, will be unable to pay back a £1.7 million start-up loan from the Isle of Wight Council as quickly as planned. Southern and Scottish Electricity Networks (SSEN) and the National Grid will carry out work between July and October, leading to rolling outages during peak-production times.
Depending on their contracts, some farms will be disconnected from the grid entirely, with no compensation.
WCE chair Colin Palmer said: “There are at least 15 large solar projects on the Island and many hundreds of domestic rooftop installations, with a total capacity of more than 90MW.
“We will be as badly affected as anyone. This level of disconnection is beyond anything I have known in my 25 years’ experience.”
WCE stands to lose £250,000 this year – half it’s projected income – and, as it has pledged to invest more than £2 million in community projects over 25 years, it will be the Island community that loses out.
Mr Palmer said: “The IW Council and the bank have been very understanding.
“We projected payments to our 136 members and the community fund of £45,000 and £20,000, respectively, in the first year. These payments are now not possible and it will take us a few years to recover, so the overall totals will also be reduced.”
A council spokeswoman said a longer repayment plan could be accommodated.
The work will include replacing transformers at Fawley during August and, from July, upgrading 132kV high-voltage overhead cables.
An SSEN spokeswoman said it had been scheduled to coincide with planned works by the National Grid, to minimise disruption.
“With our work, the current plan will only call for a full constraint for three days. We continue to work with National Grid to explore if their works can start later in the year to avoid the peak solar-production period,” she said.
A National Grid spokeswoman said SSEN had suggested the dates for the work at Fawley and, while discussions were ongoing to agree alternative dates, outages were not usually agreed after the clocks go back when the demand for electricity increases.
In the short term, WCE hopes to reach a deal with RWE Generation UK, to use its power station in Cowes but, in the long term, Mr Palmer warned the move could deter investors in the Island’s solar industry.