Alex Salmond’s drive to promote the rapid spread of wind farms is again under fire after energy companies were paid nearly £2 million to stop Scottish turbines producing electricity on a single day just over a week ago.
Critics claim that there are already too many turbines producing too much electricity that consumers do not need or cannot use because it cannot be transmitted.
The Scottish Conservatives said the “constraint payments” to wind farm companies demonstrated the “utter folly” of building yet more turbines when the electricity generated by the existing ones cannot be used.
Anti-wind farm campaigners warned the payments – which total £33.7 million in barely two years – will only increase as more developments come online.
The First Minister faced renewed criticism over his pro-wind farm stance after it emerged that a record £1.84 million in constraint payments were made to switch off or slow down turbines in Scotland on August 3.
The money, which ultimately comes from energy bills, was paid to the operators of 28 wind farms north of the Border. The National Grid confirmed the payments were made because generation was far outstripping demand.
A spokesman said this can happen through a combination of blustery conditions and temperatures that are too warm for households to be using heating and too mild for air conditioning.
The situation is made worse because the transmission network lacks the capacity to transport much of the electricity generated by wind farms in rural Scotland to urban centres in England where it is most needed.
But Mr Salmond’s SNP administration has set a target of generating the equivalent of all Scotland’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
Murdo Fraser, a Tory MSP and prominent wind farm critic, said: “We’re building more and more wind farms when we cannot even properly utilise much of the power from those which already exist.
“It’s the poor electricity bill payer who has to pay these huge sums as a result.”
The payments were disclosed by the Renewable Energy Foundation, a charity which publishes information on the energy sector.
Constraint payments for August 3 across the UK totalled £1.87 million, 63 per cent higher than the previous daily record of £1.15 million handed out on April 29 this year.
According to an analysis of the figures conducted by Stuart Young, an anti-wind farm campaigner from Caithness, only £27,972 was accounted for by wind farms in England, all of them offshore.
Among the generators to benefit was ScottishPower Renewables, which was paid £521,112 to shut down turbines at its Whitelee and Whitelee extension developments near Glasgow, the largest wind farm in Europe.
SSE was paid £311,992 to curb generation at its 152-turbine Clyde wind farm in South Lanarkshire.
EDF Energy was paid £42,963 to shut down turbines on its Fallago Rig wind farm in the Scottish Borders, which has already attracted more than £2 million of constraint payments despite only coming fully online in May.
Mr Young said an upgrade to power lines between Beauly near Inverness and Denny near Falkirk in the Central Belt may cut some constraint payments by alleviating the transmission “bottleneck” in the Highlands.
But more than £1.1 million of the payments were made to the operators of 15 wind farms further south, between Denny and the Scotland-England Border.
New subsea connectors to improve cross-Border transmission are not expected to be completed until 2018 at the earliest.
Mr Young said the net result is new wind farms erected before then will also be paid constraint payments on days like August 3.
Energy companies have insisted the payments reflect the costs and lost revenues from shutting down turbines, although they often exceed the sum that would have been paid had the electricity been required.
Scottish Renewables, the lobby group for the wind farm industry, said constraint payments are made to “all most all electricity generators, whether they are coal, gas or wind.
Catherine Birkbeck, the body’s senior policy manager, said it had consistently called for upgrades to the National Grid and greater storage capacity “in order to better balance the electricity system and help alleviate constraints on the grid.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said “significantly more” money is paid to the generators of other forms of electricity. He added: “Grid upgrades will alleviate constraints and help Scotland to achieve its ambitious renewable energy targets.”
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