Farmers and energy experts say a lack of capacity on the power grid is preventing some renewable energy projects from seeing the light of day.
NFU Cymru said more Welsh farmers and landowners want to produce clean energy to help meet net zero targets – meaning they do not add to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The chairman of the farming union spoke of “huge untapped potential in Wales”.
One energy expert said the problem was “quite significant”.
Energy regulator Ofgem and Western Power Distribution – which supplies electricity to large parts of Wales and England – have been contacted for comment.
For many in the agricultural industry, dealing with spiraling costs is an ongoing challenge, but renewable energy generation offers opportunities, not only to address these costs, but also to ensure that agriculture reduces carbon emissions.
Garry Williams, a sheep and beef farmer on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, said: “We have 3.9kw of solar panels on site at the moment. We are looking at expanding renewable energy production as a form of diversification.
“But we have a big problem and the problem is that there is no capacity in the National Grid to drop the generated electricity.”
According to NFU Cymru chairman Aled Jones, a lack of capacity on the electricity grid is a major barrier to farmers wanting to produce clean energy.
He said: “Many members who tried to participate in diversification and renewable energy projects found themselves unable to obtain grid connection because grid availability was insufficient.
“A real, real issue”
“Another issue was the three-phase connection. The cost in some of these rural areas was prohibitive for some of these projects.
“It’s a real, real issue and we’ve highlighted it several times in the past and the government should have known by now.”
He continued: “We are facing a climate emergency and farmers want to move on and diversify into other projects.
“At NFU Cymru we have set an ambition to be net zero by 2040 and we have said there are ways to do it but other people need to work with us.
“If the government and the availability of grid capacity isn’t there, it stifles innovation and investment as well. That’s serious, there’s huge, untapped potential in Wales with renewable energy projects that want to go ahead but can’t go ahead.”
There are concerns that a lack of infrastructure investment could impact on larger scale energy projects in Wales.
There are plans to generate electricity through floating wind farms off the coast of South West Wales. But the lack of infrastructure means there are questions about how this project would connect to the electricity grid.
“It’s worrying because we have such a good opportunity in terms of offshore wind that if that opportunity goes elsewhere, we in Pembrokeshire are really missing out,” said Senedd Member of Parliament (MS) Samuel Kurtz. for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire.
“It is worrying because we have such a good opportunity in terms of offshore wind that if that opportunity goes elsewhere, we in Pembrokeshire are really missing out.
“I have fears that people may be looking elsewhere to get the cables that will carry the electricity ashore.
“Classic chicken and egg problem”
“But I think Pembrokeshire is so well placed for the opportunity that presents itself and I really hope that all the stakeholders will come together to make sure we take advantage of this opportunity.”
Duncan Sinclair, who specializes in energy networks for consulting firm Baringa, said the problems the network was experiencing were due to a change in the way it operated.
“Power grids are designed based on the old paradigm.
“It’s a classic chicken-and-egg problem in many ways. Generators want to connect to the system, but grid operators won’t take that step unless they see enough people needing that capacity.
“So you have this problem where more requests are waiting, but people are reluctant to have to wait and get in a queue to connect to the network.”
He added: “In the old days we had large power stations connected to the transmission system, the power flowing through the transmission system to the distribution network and to the end consumer. That was the way it worked for a number of years.
“Long Term Plan”
“Now things are changing radically, with many more smaller assets being connected to distribution networks.
“So small-scale renewables, solar, wind farms and these can be rooftop solar panels on people’s homes or projects on farmland.”
“The issue is that we now feed electricity into the grid from the edges, and the problem arises if there is excess electricity pumped into the distribution grid that is not used locally, then it has to flow up the grid. If there’s not enough capacity in the network, then there’s a problem because it can’t reach customers further away.”
National Grid ESO, which manages the electricity system in Wales, England and Scotland, said it was “working closely with distribution network operators, transmission owners, customers and the Welsh Government to support the development of a long-term plan for electricity networks in Wales, to resolve any existing problems with connections and support delivery against shared net zero ambitions.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said it recognizes the urgent need to increase grid capacity to help Wales reach net zero by 2050 and has repeatedly raised concerns with Ofgem and the National Grid ESO.
He said he was working with energy experts “to trigger investment in the grid to meet Wales’ future low-carbon heat and transport needs” and expected this to be considered by the National Grid ESO.
He added: “Investment is needed so we can better connect the new demands for renewable energy and new generation to meet needs across Wales.”