Two huge new offshore windfarms received nearly half of the £227million paid out to operators last year to switch off when it was too windy due to capacity issues with the grid.
Constraint payments are given to operators for switching off turbines, typically when high winds and a high concentration of wind farms means the system doesn’t have the capacity to transport the energy to where it is needed.
The cost is added to domestic electricity bills, heaping more misery on households already grappling with soaring energy bills.
According to Net Zero Watch, much of the increase in payments has been driven by the commissioning of two Scottish offshore windfarms. Moray East and Beatrice, both on the Moray Firth, which are now receiving £100 million per year between them.
New analysis from Net Zero Watch has revealed that the cost of paying windfarms to “switch off” has soared, from £143 million in 2021 to £227 million in 2022, an increase of £84 million, or 60%.
There is criticism that government is not doing enough to solve the problem by adequately funding a solution to the ‘switch offs’ – involving the creation of energy storage technologies.
The Scottish Government says it plays no role in constraint payments and that Lack of grid capacity is “holding back our ability to bring on cheap, renewable sources of electricity generation.”
Windfarms have been the dominant weapon in the UK and Scottish governments’ armoury against climate change for years.
It is estimated that Scotland is home to just over half of the wind power generation in the UK.
The Herald revealed last year that constraint payments have cost bill-payers approaching £1bn in just over five years and are expected to soar to £500m a year.
Net Zero Watch, which scrutinises climate and decarbonisation policies, says the figures are symptomatic of problems with the governance of the electricity system and the way renewables have been rolled out before the grid was ready to take them.
Andrew Montford, deputy director of the group, said: “Essentially the system is very badly designed.
“We have gone ahead and we have let these people build these windfarm before the capacity is there to deliver the power.
“There are not enough wires between Scotland – where these big windfarms are – and England where the demand is.
“Back in the old days when this process started, owner would have said we are not going to build a windfarm in the hope that you are going to build more wires across the border so they [the government] said okay we will compensate you.
“So even if the grid can’t take the power we will compensate you [and] ultimately the man on the street pays for everything.
“The problem is,if you have a windfarm in the Moray Firth scheduled to deliver power down south and there’s not enough capacity you have not only got to compensate the windfarm for having to switch off but you also have to pay someone south of the border to switch on.”
There are also suspicions that the two Scottish windfarms are taking advantage of a legal loophole in the system that allows generators to be paid twice for the same electricity.
“Although constraints payments are widely understood as a payment to switch off, in fact the rules only require generators to keep the power away from the transmission grid,” explained Mr Montford.
“If they can divert it elsewhere, for example to a battery, they can receive the constraint payment and still sell the power.”
Net Zero Watch revealed the existence of the constraint payment loophole last year. There is no suggestion that either windfarm is doing anything illegal but the issue has been brought to the attention of Ofgem.
Dr Benny Peiser, director of the group, said: “Whether through utter incompetence, or shameful cynicism, the Government, National Grid and Ofgem have put in place an electricity system that allows renewables operators to rip off the consumer left, right and centre.
“They seem to hold UK households and businesses in contempt.”
Moray East only became fully operational in 2022, so analysts say its 2023 constraint income is likely to be higher still.
The UK government has provided an initial £6.7 million to 24 projects across the UK to “turbocharge” the development of storage technology.
A spokesman said that as onshore wind turbines are able to turn on and off with “relative ease”, wind generators are “sometimes asked ” by National Grid to stop generating and it is “only right that, in times like this, onshore wind developers are paid for the revenue that they lose”.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government has no role in setting constraint payments – all regulation and legislation surrounding electricity generation is currently reserved to UK Ministers and regulator Ofgem.
“Lack of grid capacity is holding back our ability to bring on cheap, renewable sources of electricity generation and Ofgem has recognised the need for the investment required to reduce constraints.
“It is vital that these new transmission projects should be taken forward at the earliest opportunity.”
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