Scotland’s drive to build its wind power industry completely stalled in the second half of last year.
With record-breaking levels of renewable electricity on the UK grid, wind turbines in Scotland have played a key role in a green energy revolution.
However, figures from the Scottish Government also revealed no new net capacity was added in the country between last June and December.
Industry leaders have warned Scotland needs to quadruple its output if it is to wean its home heating and transport sectors off fossil fuels.
But they have long argued the UK’s regulatory regime had “locked” new Scottish onshore wind out of the market since 2015 and stunted the industry’s growth.
The UK Government, under pressure to tackle climate change, has now changed track.
Installed capacity for Scottish renewable energy stood at 11.8 gigawatts (GW) in December, up from 11GW a year earlier but the same as in June.
This is the first time the industry has stood still since its technology began to go mainstream.
Morag Watson, director of policy at Scottish Renewables, the industry lobby, said: “New onshore wind farms are the cheapest form of energy generation, and therefore the cheapest way we have of tackling the climate emergency.
“Onshore wind was locked out of the energy market for four years by the UK Government – a decision that has now been reversed, but one that has had a profound impact on the renewable energy sector.
“That impact is particularly felt in Scotland, which as Europe’s windiest country is rightly the home of onshore wind in the UK.
“It is imperative now that onshore wind is again allowed to compete with other technologies and that the auctions where it can do so are held regularly.
“Issues that are identified with Scotland’s planning system must be addressed so these projects can deliver economic and social benefits for Scotland, as well as helping meet our stretching climate targets.”
The UK Government had favoured offshore wind developments over onshore ones. Onshore wind accounts for 8.3GW of Scotland’s 11GW of renewable capacity. Offshore wind makes up just 1GW.
The Scottish Government, in its quarterly energy review, said more capacity was planned or under construction than currently exists.
It said: “As of December 2019, 279 renewable electricity projects with a capacity of 13.0GW are in the pipeline. 1.2GW of these are under construction, most of which are offshore wind farms off the Moray Firth. 7.7GW are awaiting construction and 4.1GW in planning.
“Were all capacity in the pipeline to be delivered, it would more than double the level currently deployed, and could generate an estimated 31.1 TWh (terawatt) of renewable electricity.”
It added: “It is worth noting, however, there are a number of
factors that mean projects consented in the pipeline may not progress to commissioning.”
Renewables accounted for the equivalent of 90 per cent of Scottish domestic consumption last year.
Scotland was able to meet its own demand for electricity almost all year round – needing a top-up from the rest of the UK for only 120 hours. Power exports exceeded imports by £745 million at wholesale prices.
Changes in attitudes at Whitehall are expected to help release planned increases in capacity.
A UK Government spokesman said: “The UK has record-breaking levels of renewable electricity on the grid, with Scotland at the forefront of our country’s clean energy revolution.
“Last month we announced onshore wind and solar projects will be able to bid for renewable energy contracts for the first time since 2015, meaning millions more homes could be powered by clean energy by the end of the decade.”
Generators such as ScottishPower are also planning a vast expansion of battery storage to ensure wind turbines can keep Scotland’s lights on when the wind is not blowing.
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