Operators are also reimbursed when they switch off turbines because of high
According to the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), a charity that
champions a balanced UK energy policy, Scottish wind farms discarded enough
electricity in 2018 to power 500,000 households for a year.
Opposition politicians and some environmentalists are calling for a wind
farm moratorium amid claims that it is ‘perverse’ that operators can earn
millions of pounds from idle turbines.
‘These figures undermine the case for any new developments or expansions,’
said Alexander Burnett, the Scottish Conservative energy spokesman.
‘Scotland needs a balanced energy portfolio for those many, many days when
the wind doesn’t blow and it’s quite clear that the current SNP strategy is
poor value for public money.’
Scottish ministers pledged a decade ago to generate all the country’s
electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Since then, there has been an
expansion of onshore wind, fuelled by financial incentives such as
constraint payments that are paid for by consumers via energy bills.
In 2014, the charity WWF Scotland said renewables were already generating
enough power to supply the needs of 98% of the country’s households, on
average. That year, just over £50m was paid to wind farm companies to
switch off turbines.
Among the sites that shared in last year’s £125m constraints bonanza was
Scottish and Southern Energy’s (SSE) Bhlaraidh wind farm, on the
Glenmoriston estate in Inverness-shire.
According to REF, the wind farm generated 188 gigawatt hours (GWh) of power
in 2018 and was paid not to produce a further 77GWh. It means the wind farm
could have generated 265GWh of energy but 29% (77GWh) was ‘lost’.
The Fallago Rig and Strathy North sites were paid not to produce about a
quarter of potential output, while others, including Dersalloch, Hadyard
Hill, Black Law and Whitelee, were paid to discard about a fifth of
potential output. There is a suspicion that lucrative constraint payments
may encourage some wind farm operators to add more turbines.
EDF Renewables is seeking to expand Fallago Rig, near Lauder in the
Scottish Borders from 48 to 60 turbines, despite evidence that the site is
routinely paid to switch off supplies. Last year, the site generated
£6,727,751 in constraint payments.
John Constable, of REF, said the handouts raised questions about the
Western Link, from Ayrshire to north Wales, constructed to export Scottish
wind energy to the south and reduce constraint payments. It entered service
in October, almost three years late.
‘In spite of the commissioning of the WesternLink, constraints are
continuing,’ Constable said. ‘Payments in November and December were £9.1m
and £10.4m respectively, compared with £9m and £8.3m for the same months in
2017. Although it is too soon to say definitively, this is not encouraging
as to the effectiveness of the interconnector.’
Ofgem, the energy regulator, said investment in infrastructure such as the
Western Link would help reduce constraints and lower energy costs. It said
price controls had delivered more than £5bn in savings for consumers since
2013 with further savings of £6.5bn expected from 2021.
Paul Wheelhouse, the energy minister, said constraint payments were
necessary to compensate groups for the inability of the grid infrastructure
to transmit the electricity they generate.
‘In 2017, Scotland’s renewable electricity generators were able to meet the
equivalent of a record 70.1% of Scotland’s demand and we will ensure the
correct strategic decisions are taken to further support this much-valued
sector of Scotland’s economy.’
Top 10 idle wind farms
Bhlaraidh 29% of total power dumped in 2018
Strathy North 24%
Black Law 21%
Hadyard Hill 21%