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Electricity network under strain and "unable to meet some customers' needs"

Electricity network under strain and

Monday 01 November 2021

Electricity network under strain and "unable to meet some customers' needs"

Monday 01 November 2021


The island’s electricity network is at capacity in some areas as Guernsey Electricity struggles to power the transition to an 'electric future'.

Express asked the States-owned utility whether some potential customers had been told they could not instal car charging points or switch to electric heating because the grid is at capacity.

It is suspected that the island’s population has increased in the last 12 months, partly due to the covid lockdowns, however the latest figures from the island's rolling electronic census only run up until September 2020. 

"There are increasing instances where the network is at capacity and unable to meet some customers’ needs"

Guernsey Electricity Chief Executive Officer Alan Bates told Express the utility has not been able to invest in core infrastructure fast enough. 

“Guernsey Electricity is committed to providing an electricity network and secure supply to ultimately enable all islanders and businesses to decarbonise their heating and transport as part of the energy transition,” said Mr Bates. 

“Fortunately, the decarbonisation of transport can be managed in such a way that vehicle charging is optimised when the demand on the network is lower or there is surplus low carbon electricity capacity available. 

“However, as we progress the electrification of heating, the island’s peak maximum demand for electricity is increasing and the future network needs to be designed to deal with this demand.

“Therefore, there are, unfortunately, increasing instances where the network is at capacity and unable to meet some customers’ needs. In the short term, we work to find a solution within the current network in these few cases but this is not a sustainable approach.”

electricity.JPG

Pictured: Guernsey Electricity's financial position is dire. Warnings have been sounded in the States about the potential that the utility might breach its bank covenants, with more than £40m drawn down in debt. 

Mr Bates says the company has been stifled by its current system of regulation.

The company has come into conflict with the Guernsey Competition Regulatory Authority, which has previously told the company that it cannot conduct a long-overdue tariff review because of its limited resources – despite GEL paying the GCRA £180,000 a year in licence fees. 

In September, the States’ Trading Supervisory Board was delegated powers to oversee GEL’s move to a new tariff structure that will set prices that “more accurately reflect the costs of producing electricity”

The current standing charges do not cover the costs of the infrastructure, while the ‘unit cost’ of electricity that people pay depending on their usage is higher than it should be.

Mr Bates said the restructuring of tariffs is much-needed and underpins GEL’s efforts to fulfil the States of Guernsey's energy policy targets. 

“Guernsey Electricity is investing in and upgrading the network, most recently demonstrated by the new £4m bulk supply substation at Beau Séjour,” he said. 

“We have not been able to do so at such a pace that allows all islanders to decarbonise immediately and at the same time. We must carefully balance this demand with the cost of such significant investment for customers and the disruptive effect this may have on the roads.

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Pictured: Two 20MVA electricity transformers were delivered to Beau Sejour by Guernsey Electricity in September. They will supply around 25% of the island’s electricity when commissioned in November. 

He continued: “As a result of regulatory limitations for the past 10 years, Guernsey Electricity’s financial performance continues to not meet the level required to fund the necessary investment in the island’s electricity infrastructure to support the energy market transition.

“Guernsey Electricity needs to be able to invest in upgrading the network to meet these increasing demands.

"The recently approved interim arrangement for tariffs will be the first step in putting in place a tariff evolution that will support the capital programme that the Island needs to achieve the decarbonisation targets set out in the States’ Energy Policy.”

Last winter brought with it an increase in electricity faults and power outages. At the time, GEL Chief Operating Officer Sally Ann David admitted that increasing demand and persistent rain had “triggered some underlying issues in the network”, which is put under extra strain as the weather gets colder and people’s use of heating soars. 

Pictured top: A 37.4km cable, weighing 77kg per metre, was installed in 2019 in place of a broken sub-sea connection. It is part of the infrastructure connecting Guernsey to France via Jersey.

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