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£230m bung to switch off turbines – and you’re paying!

Scotland’s wind farm operators have been handed more than £230million to shut down their turbines.

The record windfall for 2020, funded by energy bill-payers, is up from £130million in 2019 – an increase of nearly 81 per cent in a year.

Experts estimate the amount of discarded energy is equivalent to about 14 per cent of total annual electricity consumption north of the Border.

The cash given to power giants is known as ‘constraint payments’, made when it is too windy for turbines to operate – or when the supply of energy outstrips demand and the National Grid cannot absorb their output.

Last night, Scottish Tory energy spokesman Alexander Burnett said: ‘This significant increase in payment shows that the SNP’s strategy is simply not delivering value for money.

‘The public are being short-changed at having to shell out so much for these turbines to be switched off.

‘SNP ministers must use these figures as a wake-up call.’

Figures showing that £235million was paid out in constraints last year were produced by the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), the UK charity that first drew attention to the payments and now publishes the data on a daily basis.

Its director Dr John Constable said: ‘The surge in constraint payments is a clear sign of worse to come as Holyrood and Westminster both drive through their unbalanced and poorly thought through wind policy.

‘The wind resource is poorly correlated with demand patterns. More expansion of the National Grid helps but does not solve the problem. Turning expensive but unwanted wind electricity into hydrogen will be still more expensive. Is this a green future? No, this is what a failing policy looks like.’

According to the REF’s data, Scottish Power’s Whitelee wind farm, near Glasgow, received the highest level of constraint payments, at £ 25.8million, followed by Kilgallioch in Ayrshire – also run by Scottish Power – on £19.7million.

Meanwhile, SSE Renewables was handed £18million for the Clyde wind farm, near Abington, Lanarkshire. The money is paid out by National Grid but is charged to consumers and added to electricity bills.

Morag Watson, director of policy at industry body Scottish Renewables, defended constraint payments. She said: ‘Constraint payments are a normal part of the overall efficient management of our electricity system. National Grid pays a variety of technologies to reduce or increase output as required to help balance the system – a service which adds £1 a year to the average electricity bill.’

A National Grid Electricity System Operator spokesman said: ‘Constraint payments are the most efficient option to balance supply and demand, keep costs down for consumers and ensure safe, reliable electricity.

‘It’s always been significantly cheaper to pay the constraint costs than build more transmission infrastructure.’

He added: ‘Constraint costs have been higher than forecast this year owing to factors including weather events and the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘Record high levels of wind and demand uncertainty due to lockdown measures led us to take more action than normal in securing the system.’

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘The Scottish Government has no role in setting constraint payments. However, we support the development of renewable energy.’