Nicola Sturgeon is under pressure to stop the spread of wind farms across Scotland’s countryside after environmentalists claimed existing turbines are already meeting the country’s electricity needs.
WWF Scotland published figures claiming that wind power generated enough power to supply the electrical needs of 98 per cent of the country’s households on average in 2014.
According to its data, wind farms generated the equivalent of more than 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity needs during six of the last 12 months, including a “record” amount in December. This dipped to only 37 per cent in June when the weather was relatively still.
But the annual average suggests that the SNP’s target of generating the equivalent of 100 per cent of the country’s electricity was all but met in 2014, six years ahead of the party’s 2020 deadline.
Despite some councils complaining they have reached “saturation point”, SNP ministers have prevented them from declaring a temporary ban on the construction of more wind farms even where the National Grid would struggle to carry the electricity they generate.
Separate figures showed a record £53.2 million was paid out to wind farm companies in 2014 to switch off their turbines because their electricity was not needed or would have overloaded the Grid.
This was 63 per cent higher than the 2013 total of £32.7 million. The Whitelee wind farm in East Renfrewshire, the UK’s largest, accounted for more than £12 million.
The Scottish Conservatives last night urged Ms Sturgeon to reconsider a moratorium on more wind farms and called for “far more emphasis” on conventional methods of generation.
Murdo Fraser, the party’s energy spokesman, said: “These figures show that, since the Scottish Government is so close to meeting its target, there is no need whatsoever for any new developments to be agreed.
“The SNP may trumpet these numbers, but it doesn’t change the fact that we still need a balanced energy portfolio for those many, many days when the wind doesn’t blow.”
The Scottish Government’s updated planning policy for turbines said it was “not appropriate” for local authorities to introduce moratoriums despite some warning they have already reached “saturation point”.
The transmission network lacks the capacity to transport some of the electricity generated by wind farms in rural Scotland to urban centres in England where it is most needed.
This has led to wind farm companies being handed millions of pounds a year in “constraint payments” – which ultimately come from household bills – to switch off their turbines when the National Grid is unable to cope with the power they produce. This can happen during periods of stormy weather.
According to the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), Whitelee, which has 215 turbines and is operated by ScottishPower Renewables, was paid more than £638,000 on New Year’s Day alone.
The WWF Scotland research said wind farms provided enough electricity to power all Scotland’s homes in January, February, March, October, November and December last year.
The top two months were December and February respectively, when turbines generated 164 per cent and 163 per cent respectively of Scottish households’ electricity needs.
However, in June this figure dipped to 37 per cent and in September only 41 per cent. The highest total was reached on December 10 when wind farms generated 262 per cent of Scotland’s electricity needs.
The same day the UK’s wind farms were paid £385,142 to switch off their turbines, according to REF, with Whitelee accounting for more than £144,000.
Lang Banks, WWF Scotland’s director, said: “Without doubt, 2014 was a massive year for renewables, with wind turbines and solar panels helping to ensure millions of tonnes of climate-wreaking carbon emissions were avoided.
“With 2015 being a critical year for addressing climate change internationally, it’s vital that Scotland continues to press ahead with plans to harness even greater amounts of clean energy.”
Rob Gibson, a senior SNP MSP, said: “These are very welcome figures which demonstrate that the Scottish Government’s commitment to and investment in renewables are paying dividends.”
A ScottishPower Renewables spokesman said: “We don’t ever want to be constrained, but we are told occasionally that we need to reduce output, so the wider grid system isn’t adversely affected.
“The constraints system has been in place for electricity generators of all types for many years. Generators pay substantial fees to connect to the electricity network, and receive compensation when they are instructed by National Grid to stop or reduce production for a period.”
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