The energy regulator is to introduce rules designed to kick out “zombie” wind and solar farms from the lengthy queue to connect to Great Britain’s electricity grid.
Ofgem hopes to speed up the process of hooking up new energy projects to the electricity network in the face of a backlog that is deterring investment and Britain’s attempts to switch to clean energy.
At the moment, projects are connected to the grid on a first come, first served basis – leaving some developers waiting up to 15 years to produce power for the country’s homes and businesses.
In certain cases, developers have been granted a contract allowing them a grid connection for a location, but have not progressed the project, possibly with the aim of selling the connection on at a later date. The projects include onshore and offshore wind, solar farms and battery storage businesses, and the first terminations are expected next year.
The regulator said on Monday it would hand National Grid’s electricity system operator (ESO), which controls the process, the power to terminate projects that were not progressing against their specific milestones, including proof of funding or planning permission. It will apply to all projects with a connection date after November 2025.
The ESO has said that between 60% and 70% of projects in the queue “ultimately fail to materialise or connect”. The number of projects waiting in line rose from 600 in May to 1,000 by September.
The average time between requesting a connection and being offered one has increased from 18 months in 2019-20 to five years in 2023.
Ofgem said that, if the current projects in the queue were all developed, it would generate 400 gigawatts (GW) of power, far outstripping the UK’s existing power capacity of about 65GW. However, more than 40% of that is in held-up contracts with connection dates of 2030 or later; some are as late as 2037.
Eleanor Warburton, an Ofgem director, said: “The transition to net zero demands urgent changes to the electricity connections system – or we cannot unlock investment, speed up network build and accelerate new technology.
“This is a big step towards phasing out the first come, first served queueing system. We want new power on the grid as quickly as possible, so if you’re ready, you can connect sooner.
“If you’re not ready and are blocking the progress of others, you’ll be removed – you can’t sit on the queue with no consequences.”
Julian Leslie, the chief engineer and head of networks at the ESO, said: “We warmly welcome these new rules approved by Ofgem enabling us to proactively terminate zombie projects in the connections queue.”
Earlier this year, National Grid offered an “amnesty” to developers to allow them to get out of the queue for a grid connection with no financial penalty. Its chief executive, John Pettigrew, said last week that this had cut 5GW from the backlog.
The government is stepping up efforts to encourage green developers after its most recent clean energy auction proved a flop, with no offshore windfarms taking part. It is now expected to offer higher subsidies to the companies, which have faced rising costs.
A package of measures to speed up grid connections is expected to be announced in the chancellor’s autumn statement on 22 November.
Separately, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) said on Monday that the oil market remained “healthy”, despite a weakening in prices to $82 (£67) a barrel for Brent crude from highs of nearly $98 in late September.
The group of oil-producing nations said strong Chinese imports and “robust” trading were supporting the market despite concern about economic growth and demand. Oil prices have also been in focus amid the Israel-Hamas war.