A far north campaigner has said it “beggars belief” that millions of pounds continue to be handed over to wind farm operators to switch off their turbines.
Brenda Herrick claims Caithness and Sutherland landscapes are being “totally destroyed” by wind energy schemes while developers are picking up huge sums – more than £19 million in one case – for reducing output.
Constraint payments are made to energy firms when the national grid is unable to cope with the amount of power their sites are generating.
Mrs Herrick, of Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, says consumers pay the price through their electricity bills and she argues that against this backdrop it makes no sense to build new wind farms or seek to extend existing ones.
The Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), a UK charity, calls the scale of constraint payments nationally “an ongoing scandal”. It says the payments are made when wind power in Scotland exceeds local demand but cannot be exported to England due to insufficient grid infrastructure.
According to recent running totals collated by REF, the operators of wind farms in Sutherland had been paid £64,068,426 for turning off their turbines at times of grid congestion since the system of payments began in 2010.
Over that same timescale, Caithness onshore wind farms had generated payments of £8,873,732 and the figure for the Beatrice offshore wind farm stood at £935,265.
The biggest sum for a specific onshore wind farm in the far north was £19,315,878 for SSE Renewables’ Gordonbush scheme in Strath Brora, where an extension will add 11 turbines to the existing 35.
“All these payments are simply because the grid can’t take the electricity,” Mrs Herrick said. “The vast bulk of the money is paid out in Scotland because the wind farms in Scotland are too far away from where the electricity is needed, and the transmission lines are just not in place.
“And there’s more to come. This is what I don’t understand.
“Gordonbush is getting over £19 million and yet they’ve nearly finished constructing an extension. And this is what they keep doing.
“There’s Strathy North and there will be Strathy South coming along soon, and Strathy Forest. As well as Beatrice [offshore] there will be Moray East and Moray West.”
She added: “The payments all come from our bills – that’s why they are so high. It’s us that’s paying for all this. Community benefit, everything, it all gets put on to our bills – it’s not some private pot. We’re paying for everything.
“Caithness and Sutherland are being totally destroyed by all these things and I do not understand why they keep building them in such remote areas when all they’re going to do is be paid to be switched off.
“It just beggars belief that they keep doing it. And adding extensions to wind farms that are already being paid to switch off just doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Figures sourced this month gave the following constraint payment sums for Caithness onshore wind farms since 2010: Bad á Cheò £81,337; Baillie £5,292,797; Burn of Whilk £1,432,139; and Camster £2,067,459 (Caithness onshore total £8,873,732). Two of the county’s most prominent onshore wind farms, Causeymire and Stroupster, do not feature on the list.
The sum for the Beatrice offshore wind farm was £935,265.
Payments to Sutherland wind farms over the same period were: Beinn Tharsuinn £9,749,681; Gordonbush £19,315,878; Kilbraur £16,883,340; and Strathy North £18,119,527 (Sutherland total £64,068,426).
The UK total was put at £910,301,106, with most of this – £844,075,854 – generated in Scotland .
REF, which says its datasets on renewable energy performance are the most comprehensive in the UK, calculates that the top three recipients of constraints in Scotland since payments began in 2010 are Whitelee (£135m), Clyde (98m) and Fallago Rig (£50m), all of which are relatively close to the English border.
“The scale of constraint payments to wind power to reduce output is an ongoing scandal,” REF director Dr John Constable said. “The rates paid per MWh actually exceed the income lost, which is irrational, and from a strict economic perspective there should be no compensation offered, since grid constraints are a normal commercial risk.”
Dr Constable said the Scottish Government was at fault “for consenting more wind than the system can integrate at reasonable cost”. He claimed the energy regulator, Ofgem, was failing to protect the consumer against excess payments, and accused the UK government of being “asleep at the wheel and allowing this mess to develop into a £260-million-a-year disaster.”
He said: “Local grid reinforcement should tend to reduce constraint payments, but bear in mind that the Anglo-Scottish border is itself a major constraint, and that growth in wind power in Scotland has been so rapid that even the addition of the 2.2 GW subsea Western Link has not arrested the rapid rise in constraint payments. Grid reinforcement doesn’t seem able to keep up.
“Bad though they are, constraint payments to wind in Scotland are part of a larger UK grid balancing problem caused by renewables policies. UK grid balancing costs amounted to about about £400 million a year in 2002, but have surged with the addition of wind and solar and are expected to top £1.8 billion this year.
“With rising costs of this order it is not surprising that electricity demand is falling sharply in the UK, with serious economic implications.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “All legislation and regulation in respect of electricity generation and electricity markets is currently reserved to the UK government and UK regulator, Ofgem. The Scottish Government has no role in setting constraint payments.
“However, we strongly support the development of renewable energy and would highlight that constraint payments are received across a range of generation technologies.
“New electricity infrastructure is being developed that increases the capacity of the electricity networks to transfer power around the country. For example, the Caithness-Moray cable commissioned in 2018 has reduced the need for constraint payments to be paid to wind farms in the north of Scotland.
“Wind power in Scotland has been a major success story of the past decade, with the equivalent of 90.1 per cent of Scotland’s electricity consumption generated from renewable sources, and more than 56 per cent of this onshore wind alone. Investment in wind energy, as one of the cheapest generation sources of supply at scale, is helping meet Scotland’s world-leading climate targets and is also making a significant net impact in keeping down electricity prices for consumers.
“Furthermore, in order to meet Scotland’s climate targets, further expansion of renewable electricity generation across a range of technologies, including onshore wind, will be required. It is expected that additional electricity demand will be created in Scotland as we transition to net-zero and decarbonise our heating and transport systems.”
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