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Solar farm switch-on represents connections milestone

A major step in the UK’s transition to clean energy took place in Somerset yesterday when a solar farm made history by becoming the first to be energised since we introduced changes to speed-up connections.

Horsey Levels near Bridgwater has been developed and constructed by clean energy company Enviromena and will have an annual energy yield of 27,550MWh – enough to provide clean energy for 10,000 homes and avoid 5,000 tonnes of CO2.

The site – which is owned by Blackfinch Energy – made history as the first nationally to have been energised significantly ahead of its original planned connection date, made possible through the Technical Limits acceleration programme.

Above: South West Operations Director Steve Cross and Primary Network Design Engineer Adam King at the Horsey Levels launch. 

Technical Limits is part of the Energy Networks Association’s (ENA) three-point plan allowing distribution schemes to connect before large-scale transmission reinforcement work has finished. The Technical Limits programme is accelerating projects in our region by an average of more than five years.

Enviromena’s team worked closely with us and the Electricity Systems Operator (ESO) to help facilitate solutions that enable connections to be accelerated and, in turn, turbocharge the UK’s deployment of renewable energy. Horsey Levels will pave the way for future accelerated projects to be connected ahead of schedule.

Steve Cross, South West Operations Director for National Grid Electricity Distribution, said: “This is an important milestone in the work we’re doing to enable grid connections to help decarbonise the communities we serve.

“We are investing £500 million over the next five years to ensure electricity generation customers can connect to our network and we are working closely with industry, Ofgem and government to streamline the process and accelerate connection times for active projects.

“Horsey Levels is the first of many renewable projects to benefit from this concerted and co-ordinated approach and will undoubtedly make a valuable contribution to the South West’s pursuit of net zero targets.”

Chris Marsh, Enviromena CEO, said: “We are delighted to energise the first accelerated project as part of National Grid’s reforms to help bring forward the connection dates of renewable energy projects.

“We have been supported from the outset by the project owner Blackfinch Energy. In addition, we have worked closely with Somerset Council to agree rights to connect the project on council-owned land.

“We’re also pleased our efforts will play a part in helping other project developers to energise their schemes ahead of schedule in the months and years ahead.”

Horsey Levels is owned by Blackfinch Energy, part of Blackfinch Group, a leading UK specialist investment manager. Alan Gorman, Investment Director at Blackfinch Energy, said: “We are immensely proud to be part of the UK’s transition to a more sustainable and clean energy future with the Horsey Levels solar farm. The energisation of Horsey is a fantastic milestone we are delighted to celebrate. The collaborative approach between all the parties involved is enabling the realisation of greater security of UK renewable energy. It’s a powerful representation of retail investor capital in action, helping to contribute to long-term, positive, sustainable outcomes.”

The project also showcases how support from local authorities can help drive the UK’s roll-out of renewable energy. The project received unanimous support from Somerset Council and was granted planning consent through delegated power in 2022 and, more significantly, the project connects to the electricity grid on land owned by Somerset Council.

Councillor Mike Best, Chairman of Somerset Council, said: "Our Council Plan sets out our commitment to a greener more sustainable Somerset, and as we continue to work towards net zero, we welcome clean energy solutions that benefit our communities and the environment. The Horsey Levels project will make a significant contribution to reducing carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.”

David Wildash, ESO Interim Director of Engineering and Customer Solutions, said: “Through our plans to speed-up the process and with support for wider industry initiatives, the ESO has facilitated the acceleration of 40GW of connection offers but we know there is lots more we all need to do. We’ll continue to collaborate with the energy industry, network operators, government and Ofgem to reform and modernise the connections process.”