In January, SSE (the Isle of Wight electricity company) notified Wight Community Energy (WCE) and a number of other solar energy providers across the Island that they intended to disconnect them from the electricity grid, whilst work is taking place on the network, a consequence of years of under-investment in Island infrastructure.
This disconnection would cover the whole of April and a further 4 months from early July – a critical time for solar energy production as the long days provide up to 16 daylight hours of solar output and cost the project up to 54% of its annual revenues. This surprise move by SSE is a major set-back for WCE and creates an uncertain future for further investment in solar and renewable energy across the Island.
Colin Palmer, Chairman of Wight Community Energy comments: “SSE gave us little notice of their plans and it was extremely difficult to engage effectively with them. This news is a significant blow to investor confidence in developing sustainable energy for the Island and also to support people struggling to pay their energy bills, the very people who are also the hardest hit be SSE’s 14.9% hike in electricity prices that took place in April.”
Eventually discussions between Wight Community Energy and SSE indicated that there was scope to delay and then bring the end of the outage forward by up to 2 months. However, this has not materialised resulting in Wight Community Energy being unable to avoid both the first period of disconnection and up to 4 months of disconnection over the critical summer months. WCE and the other solar project owners are still in discussions with SSE in an attempt to explore a number of further options that, with the cooperation of SSE, would help to ensure that the worst impacts of the dis-connection can be avoided.
One option is for SSE to allow the solar projects to use the existing and underutilised grid capacity from the standby Cowes power station run by RWE, which is only used at peak times, typically during the winter months. This simple solution would allow solar production to continue uninterrupted during the critical summer months whilst SSE complete their work. It would however require Wight Community Energy and other solar energy providers to make a payment to RWE.
Colin Adds: “Whilst discussions have taken place, SSE were initially slow to respond and we now face output being lost across the critical summer months that are key to solar production. Whilst we, like all other producers have a grid connection contract with SSE, this still allows SSE to simply switch the connection off with little notice or discussion. However this level of disconnection is beyond anything I have known in any project I have worked on in my 25 years’ experience. There are alternatives which we are working hard to explore but it needs support and co-operation from both SSE and RWE.”
Wight Community Energy was established in 2016 to bring the 3.95MW solar park at Homestead Farm to the north of Newbridge into community ownership and is capable of generating 4.68 GWh of power each year; enough to support over 1,300 typical Island homes and provide up to £2.4 million for a community benefit fund, one aim of which is to reduce fuel poverty across the Island.