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Money for nothing: Firm’s £140,000 to halt turbines – before farm opened

Scotland’s biggest energy firm is to receive publiclyf unded compensation of £140,000 for shutting down a wind farm – that was not fully operational.

Companies qualify for so-called ‘constraint payments’ when they have to close wind farms temporarily and these are bankrolled by householders through rising domestic energy bills.

Compensation is paid if windgenerated electricity feeding the National Grid is not required or has already caused a network overload.

It has led to the payments being made during exceptionally windy conditions because the Grid cannot cope with the extra energy the turbines are producing.

But this is believed to be the first time an operator – Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) – has been compensated for shutting down a wind farm which was only being tested and was, therefore, producing limited amounts of electricity.

The latest controversy was last night seen as fresh evidence that Scotland’s ageing electricity network cannot cope with an ever-increasing overload of energy generated by giant turbines.

It also renewed the row over ‘constraint payments’ which have cost customers around £16million in the past two years due to Scottish turbine shutdowns.

Dr Lee Moroney, of the Renewable Energy Foundation, a leading critic of the payments, said: ‘It has been obvious for over a year now that the pace of wind development in Scotland is outstripping National Grid’s ability to absorb the energy at reasonable cost to the consumer.

‘The fact that so little has been done to reduce constraint payments is nothing short of a scandal.’

SSE’s 35- turbine, £100million Gordonbush scheme in Sutherland, was ordered by National Grid to cease operation June 6,7 and 8.

The lost power generation led to compensation payments of £30,475, £46,974 and £64,079 for each of these days, respectively.

Industry critics are furious because the newly-built 70-megawatt Gordonbush scheme was not generating fully at the time.

It was running final tests when the shutdown was ordered and was not officially switched on until June 12.

The ‘constraint payments’ will compensate highly profitable SSE, which was ordered by National Grid to switch off turbines to combat an imbalance in the electricity network caused by an overload of energy from wind farms.

SSE recently announced record profits of more than £1.3billion, as thousands of Scots families struggle to heat their homes.

Network power lines can no longer accommodate the growing input of electricity generated by windfarms in the north of Scotland.

It has left National Grid with no choice but to use ‘balancing mechanisms’ – physically shutting down turbines to maintain a steady supply when there is a risk of overload.

Operators feeding the network have a right to supply electricity to the National Grid around the clock, making them eligible for compensation each time they are ordered to cease production.

Critics have been further angered by the fact wind farm operators can negotiate compensation levels.

There is mounting pressure on energy regulator Ofgem to clamp down on a system that has been known to allow power companies more in compensation than the initial value of electricity on offer at the time of the overload emergency.

As gusts of almost 90mph caused by Hurricane Katia swept across Scotland in September last year, more than a dozen wind farms were shut down, netting their owners £2.6million i n constraint payments.

Allan Tubb, a member of the LandScape protest group that was formed to oppose a raft of wind farms built in Sutherland, said: ‘With increasing energy bills, the UK and Scottish Governments must urgently overhaul the system of payments made to an industry that is driving people into fuel poverty.’ An SSE spokesman confirmed that the Gordonbush scheme was undergoing ‘final testing’ at the time and ‘wasn’t generating fully’.

A National Grid spokesman said: ‘Gordonbush windfarm is contracted to supply a maximum of 70 megawatts to the National Transmission System.

‘It was not contracted to deliver any set amount of energy during its commissioning phase.’

The Department of Energy and Climate Change claimed last night that the impact of constraint payments is ‘no more than a few pence per year’ on a typical electricity bill.