Wind farm companies were paid almost £5 million to switch off their turbines while storms lashed the UK over the festive period and tens of thousands of homes were left without power, according to figures published today.
The ‘constraint payments’, which ultimately come from household bills, were payable when the National Grid was unable to cope with the extra power produced during the recent bout of stormy weather or usage was low.
More than £4.8 million has been paid out to wind farm companies since December 15, according to figures compiled from official data, almost as much as was handed over in the whole of 2012.
The total included more than £1.2 million during the first of the recent storms, on December 19, followed by nearly £800,000 on Christmas Eve, more than £400,000 on Christmas Day and nearly £300,000 last Friday.
The money was paid to switch off turbines over a period when winds of up to 100mph hit Britain, with the storms leading to a spate of deaths, travel chaos for millions of people trying to get home for Christmas and power cuts for thousands of homes.
Anti-wind farm campaigners said the figures would infuriate hard-pressed households and demonstrated that wind farms were being erected faster than the National Grid can absorb the electricity they produce.
It was reported on Boxing Day that constraint payments of £30.4 million had been paid out in 2013 compared with £5 million the previous year.
However, this did not include the money handed out to switch off turbines during the Christmas week storms and the total has since increased to £32.6 million. With more stormy weather forecast over New Year, the total is expected to rise further.
Murdo Fraser, a senior Tory MSP and wind farm critic, said: “Families who are struggling with overstretched household budgets at Christmas time and have to meet ever-increasing energy bills will be horrified to see such vast sums of their money being paid to wind power companies for doing nothing.
“This exposes once again the over-reliance on wind developments as part of our energy mix when the Grid capacity doesn’t currently exist to properly utilise the power produced.”
The constraint payment figures were compiled using official data by the Renewable Energy Foundation, a charity. The first bout of storms saw energy companies paid £653,727 on December 18 and £1.24 million on December 19 to switch off turbines at 31 wind farms.
A further £113,826 was paid out on December 21 and £248,399 the following day before the payments spiked again on Christmas Eve as storms tore across Britain.
As around 75,000 homes were left without power, the wind farm companies were paid £787,959 to switch off turbines at 18 of their developments. Around 50,000 households remained without power on Christmas Day when £432,445 of constraint payments were made.
Another £287,454 was given to the energy firms on December 27 and £126,827 on December 28, according to the figures.
The National Grid has said the system is needed to balance supply and demand and the money handed to wind farms make up only a small proportion of constraint payments made to generators of all types.
A spokesman for RenewableUK, the lobby group representing wind farm companies, said: “December has been a record-breaking period for the amount of clean power generated by wind, with the most electricity we’ve ever generated in a month – more than 2 million megawatt hours.
“It’s very easy to turn a wind turbine on or off compared to other forms of generation such as a nuclear power station. That is partly why the National Grid sometimes calls on wind developers to constrain their power.”
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