Supervision of the grid connection process, including access to offers, is the statutory responsibility of the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER). The Gate process was put in place by the CER following public consultation. It is a group processing approach (GPA) towards the processing and issuance of grid connection offers to renewable generators. Under the GPA or Gate process, applications for connections are processed in batches rather than sequentially. Within these gates, applications are further divided into groups and sub-groups based on the optimal network required to connect them. This approach is considered by CER to be a more efficient process than dealing with applications on an individual basis.
The group processing approach allows for a more strategic view to be taken of network requirements and serves to put in place efficient connection solutions to cater for a large number of applications and to ensure optimum network development, minimising network costs and, where possible, avoidance of network bottlenecks. To date there have been 3 Gates. Under Gate 1 and Gate 2, 1755MW of connection offers were made and accepted. Under Gate 3, 3900MW of offers have issued to renewable generators.
The take up of Gate 3 offers cannot be quantified as yet. A small number of those in Gate 3 have accepted their offers to date and have already contracted with EirGrid or ESB Networks. Others in Gate 3 have not yet made a decision on whether they are accepting their offer or not, pending the issuing of constraint reports by EirGrid. EirGrid is currently working on producing these constraint reports and once issued those in Gate 3 applicants will have a short period of time within which to accept or reject their offer and to pay their deposit. One of the causes of delay in EirGrid issuing constraint reports relates to the clarification of rules by the Single Electricity Market Committee as to the operation of the Single Electricity Market. A decision in August 2011 set out principles of dispatch and the design of the market schedule in the Trading and Settlement Code while another in December 2011 set out the treatment of price-taking generation in tie breaks in the Single Electricity Market. This latter decision has recently been re-opened for further consultation by the SEM Committee.
A Gate 3 liaison group involving the TSO, DSO, regulator and industry representatives meets on a regular basis and all parties are committed to Gate 3. The latest forecasts from SEAI as to the amount of renewable generation required to meet our 40% renewable electricity target is 4000MW, provided we achieve our energy efficiency goals. Currently approximately 1900MW of renewable generation is connected to the grid including over 1600MW of wind generation. A further 1500MW of renewable generation has contracted with either EirGrid or ESB Networks. For the most part, these are projects from Gate 1 and Gate 2 that are still awaiting grid build-out, along with about 500MW from Gate 3. It is expected that between what is already built in Gate 1 and Gate 2 and what has already contracted to build along with the remainder of Gate 3 is largely sufficient for the achievement of our 40% target, even if some Gate 3 developers ultimately decide not to accept their offer.
Apart from the above, the Commission for Energy Regulation published a decision in 2009 (CER 09/099) that allows for certain renewable, small and low carbon generators to connect to the transmission and distribution grids without going through the full rigours of the Gate process. This includes small projects, research and development projects and those that qualify as they are deemed to provide benefits of a public nature that merit qualification.
It will be necessary to have accurate quantification of the take-up level of Gate 3 offers and the extent to which this enables achievement of the national renewable energy target, prior to taking further decisions on future Gates. The need for significant grid build and grid upgrade to cater for the existing three Gates and to meet the 40% target and the operational issues associated with managing the grid with a high level of intermittent generation are complex and challenging matters. EirGrid's DS3 programme is designed to ensure that the security and stability of the grid can be maintained while still achieving the required renewable penetration levels.