A far north anti-wind farm campaigner is disappointed in the results of a poll that showed only a slender majority in favour of halting further developments in the region.
Brenda Herrick says that the £73 million paid out to wind farm operators in Caithness and Sutherland since the system of constraints payments began in 2010 shows that there is no need for further turbines in the area.
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 John O’Groat Journal ran a poll on its website asking if there should be a halt to new onshore wind farm developments and extensions in Caithness and Sutherland on the back of these figures.
With nearly 1000 votes cast, the straw poll indicated that 54 per cent were in favour of putting a stop to further developments, while 46 per cent wanted more wind farms to be built.
Mrs Herrick said: “I wouldn’t want to say that is a huge victory for our side, as I think a lot of people will be quite disappointed by that. I thought it would have been more saying yes.
“I wouldn’t have thought that reflected the opinions of people in Caithness and Sutherland, but it is very difficult to tell.”
She conceded that there are people who support wind farms but said a lot of that was based on the community benefit building more turbines offered.
“I think the communities that are affected are generally opposed to them,” she added.
“There are far too many of them up here, and it comes back to the constraints payments – why keep building them when the electricity can’t be used?
“We have to keep paying them to switch off. I can’t think of any other industry that is paid to do nothing.”
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.”
Industry leaders said that constraints payments add just £1 a year to the average household electricity bill, and developing the network was a priority.
Morag Watson, director of policy at Scottish Renewables, said: “The latest statistics from the UK government’s Public Attitudes Tracker shows that 73 per cent of the public support the use of onshore wind energy for providing electricity, fuel and heat, with only five per cent opposed to it.
“This is further reflected in research carried out by Scottish Renewables in 2018 which revealed that almost seven in 10 Scots living in rural areas support the use of onshore wind energy.
“Constraint payments are a normal part of the overall efficient management of our electricity system, given the limitations of the UK’s ageing energy infrastructure.
“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 household electricity bill. The compensation received by all generators is governed by the Transmission Constraint Licence Condition, which prohibits generators from obtaining an excessive benefit.
“Overall, delivering a modern electricity network capable of getting power generated to customers must be a priority over the coming years, and is the best way to minimise the cost of constraint payments to consumers.”