Wind farms have been paid £43million to stand idle so far this year, a new British record.
The payments, funded through householders’ electricity bills, were made to suppliers because the National Grid was unable to use their electricity.
The sums paid in ‘constraint payments’ to wind farms have risen rapidly in the past four years, according to electricity market data.
The total with two months still to go has already far surpassed the £32million paid in the whole of 2013.
Payments totalled £6million in 2012 and £174,000 in 2010.
High winds last month set new daily records for compensation – with £3.07million paid to 33 wind farms to switch off on a single day, October 26.
John Constable, of the Renewable Energy Foundation which campaigns against energy subsidies, said too many wind farms had been built too quickly, without the infrastructure to cope with the power.
Officials are also pandering to suppliers running the Government’s ‘pet technology’, he said, allowing them to charge whatever they wanted to switch off.
The wind industry claims the payments are justified because of the operational costs involved in switching off.
They say other energy industries, such as coal plants, can far more easily stop production and save money when they do so.
But critics point out that the high value of payments reflect a fundamental problem with wind power.
Wind turbines are inherently unpredictable, depending on the weather, and so must be controlled to stop surges causing physical damage to electricity cables and equipment.
The windiest places are often the furthest away from cities where the power is needed, meaning high transmission costs.
The overwhelming majority of the payments to date have been to wind farms in Scotland, where the bulk of wind farms are located.
Electricity demand in Scotland does not match the power produced on the windier days, but cable networks to take the power south into England have not yet been constructed.
As a result National Grid has to pay the wind farm owners to stop generating in order to keep supply and demand balanced.
Renewable UK, which represents the wind industry, points out that wind power is reaching more homes than ever before – supplying a record 24 per cent of the nation’s electricity on one particularly windy day last month.
Jennifer Webber, its director of external affairs, said last in October: ‘Wind power is often used as a convenient whipping boy by political opponents and vested interests.
‘All the while, it’s been quietly powering millions of homes across the UK and providing a robust response to its vocal detractors.’
But Dr Constable said: ‘Managing wind power is a very expensive business.
‘We built too much, too quickly. It is unpredictable and because it tends to be sited in a location a long way from people, it costs a lot to transmit.
‘Building more grid is given as the answer, but that is very expensive – it would have been cheaper not to build these wind farms in the first place.
‘They are charging very high prices to switch off – far higher than the cost of actually producing the power – but officials will not challenge them because this the Government’s pet technology.’
The cost of wind power has become an increasingly divisive issue at the heart of Government.
David Cameron has pledged to place new limits on onshore wind farms if the Tories win a majority at the next election, a policy that has been bitterly opposed by Liberal Democrats.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem Energy Secretary, last week said acting to scrap wind power was a dangerous and populist idea.
Speaking in the House of Commons, he attacked ‘anti-renewables, anti-wind tendency’ of his Conservative Coalition colleagues.
He said: ‘It is imperative that these tendencies are resisted, particularly in the run-up to the general election. Short-term populism is the most dangerous enemy energy and climate change policy has.’
Defending the constraint payments yesterday, a spokesman for Mr Davey’s Department of Energy and Climate Change said: ‘National Grid has been paying coal and gas generators – and others – to change their planned output well before wind farms joined the mix.
‘In fact, the majority of compensation goes to fossil fuel generators rather than onshore wind farms. The impact on energy bills is negligible.’
Energy regulator Ofgem told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘National Grid’s costs for making these payments have increased as more renewable generators have connected to Britain’s networks before investment programmes have been completed to build new capacity.
‘Last year Ofgem approved a major eight-year network investment programme to address this through renewing and building new capacity.’
The wind industry said it receives a tiny proportion of the budget spent on balancing electricity demand.
A spokesman for Renewable UK said last night: ‘Constraint payments are one of the tools National Grid use to manage the supply and demand of electricity, with payments going to different types of generators, both renewables and fossil fuels.
‘Last year wind received just 5 per cent of the total payments for balancing the grid, equating to 65p a year on the average household bill.’
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