Wind farm owners in Northern Ireland were paid £1m to switch off their turbines and stop generating electricity in a 20-month period.
The money was for “constraint payments” to reduce output and discard surplus energy.
The figures were revealed by Economy Minister Diane Dodds after an Assembly question from South Down MLA Jim Wells.
Constraint payments are a form of compensation, paid to wind farms operators, when demand for electricity falls or winds are too strong for turbines to operate.
Mr Wells has called for the payments to be scrapped.
Quoting figures provided by the System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI), Mrs Dodds said around £1m was paid out to wind farm owners between October 2018 and June 2020.
The money is ultimately added to household electricity bills.
The director of a major UK charity, Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), has also warned the practice had, in other UK regions, led to wind farms receiving more from compensation payments than producing electricity.
A spokesperson from SONI denied the payments in Northern Ireland were excessive, and said a long-term strategy including progressing the North-south interconnector in Ireland would steadily reduce costs for customers.
Mr Wells, a DUP MLA who has had the party whip withdrawn, said: “This is basically wind farm owners being paid (for their turbines) to do nothing.
“In the initial surge to get people signed up to wind farms and green energy, the incentives were extremely attractive.”
He said operators should no longer be compensated for quieter periods, given the relatively low costs after start-up. “Each farmer gets a payment of £14,000 per turbine a year for 25 years for the land they rent the turbines on.”
He added: “I do think it’s time to review these contracts to make sure they meet the needs of the real world.”
REF director Dr John Constable pointed to a weakness in Scotland’s grid system that has already caused an excessive expansion in wind farms, resulting in large constraint payouts. Mr Constable added: “I agree these constraint payments should never have been paid at all, it’s just a mistake. One thing you could say is that constraint payments are just getting going in Northern Ireland.
“Wind farms are still being built so it’s only going to get worse and the scale of the problem is very large.
“The constraints so far in the GB system in 2020 has already cost £149.6m. You really don’t want to head that way in Northern Ireland.”
SONI spokesperson Natasha Sayee said it was necessary to limit wind energy on occasions for safety and security reasons, with windfarms owners compensated for the electricity they planned to sell.
She explained that a significant amount of work has taken place to improve Northern Ireland’s grid system and minimise constraints.
At present, the grid carries up to 65% renewable energy at any one time, with a target to increase this to 95% by 2030.
There has also been investment in the Curraghmulkin project in Tyrone and the Brockaghboy 110kv line near Garvagh which connects clusters of windfarms to the transmission grid. During the first three months of this year, she added there was 21% more wind generation in Northern Ireland and 26% more available wind energy than in the same period last year.
She said the North South Interconnector would also be a “game-changer” in maximising efficiency.
“In doing so it will also reduce costs to consumers across the island of approximately £20m annually, rising to £40m in savings by 2030.”
She added that investing in technologies such as battery storage to hold excess wind energy would allow more upgrades for future generations.
Steven Agnew, head of the NI Renewable Industries Group (NIRIG), said renewable energies had saved NI consumers £135m since 2000.
“With 47% of its electricity coming from renewables, Northern Ireland is a leader in the type of low-carbon energy generation that will play a key role in our green economic recovery,” he said.
He called constraints “an unfortunate consequence” of a small island system that was paid to all forms of generation.
In renewables, he said this was more than compensated for due to reduced wholesale prices.
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