Norway interconnector problems dent independence claims

Utility Week reported on 5 March that SSE had pulled out of a consortium planning to develop a subsea electricity interconnector between the UK and Norway.  SSE said a focus on its core markets of Great Britain and Ireland was partly responsible for them withdrawing from the project along with the lack of short-term clarity on the regulatory regime. However, the report also indicated that the other NorthConnect partners – Vattenfall UK, E-Co Energi, Agder Energi, and Lyse – remain fully committed to developing the interconnector. Vattenfall have also subsequently withdrawn.

A further blow to the project was covered by Steven Vass in yesterday’s Sunday Herald.  Ødd Oygarden, chairman of NorthConnect, said cancelling the project was a “possible development” if Oslo’s proposal to put state-controlled grid operator Statnett in charge of all Norwegian interconnector projects comes to fruition. He said: “We will have to see what will happen with the Norwegian government’s proposition. If it goes ahead – You can take it that [cancelling the NorthConnect project] might be a possible development. The government suggesting that there should be a near-monopolistic situation with interconnectors is not what we want as a background for reaching agreements.”

The significance of this is that Statnett has no interest in NorthConnect, and therefore may prioritise projects in which it does have a stake – including its North Sea Network (NSN) joint venture with National Grid south of the Border. NSN proposes to build a line between Northumberland and Western Norway, which would potentially allow the rest of the UK to dominate green energy exporting in the event that Scotland voted for independence. The idea is to use Scandinavian hydro power as a ‘green battery’ to keep the lights on when intermittent wind power isn’t available. Denmark already uses Norway in this way.

As today’s Herald Leader points out, National Grid’s submission to the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee, said England and Wales could meet their renewable and carbon emissions targets without any contribution from Scotland. This is a further dent to the SNP claim that England will need Scottish renewables to keep the lights on. With an interconnector to Norway on top of the existing ones to France and Holland, these claims look even more fanciful.

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