I class myself as being pretty ‘up’ on environmental issues, but I was shocked when reading an article in the ENDs Report the other day. It was concerning the fact that we pay massive sums for wind energy. Ok, you say, we know that… ah yes, but this relates to the that fact that we pay millions of pounds when the turbines are too productive. Like I said, it’s insane.
These constraint payments are made when a wind farm produces electricity that has nowhere to go, say in a period of high wind but low demand. It’s all part of the National Grid’s balancing mechanism, and is supposed to keep all things fair.
In essence the theory is that if you have to tell a power generator to lower its output you are in breach of contract and they are losing money, so you compensate them. Fair enough… I think.
The trouble is that when a conventional fossil-fuelled power station is asked to lower production, they consequently save on fuel, so their payments reflects this. When a wind farm has to ‘shut down’ they not only lose profits through idleness, but also due to the renewables obligation, they lose out on potentially huge subsidy production payments, and so the constraint payments have to be a lot more. From recent reports it seems that nearly £15 million has been paid out over the last 2 years. £15 million? That’s crazy money.
They kept this one quiet…
After doing a bit of research on this subject, I found myself less ashamed at not being aware of these payments when a Google search for ‘wind farm constraint payments’ threw up a number of hits that also contained the word ‘secret’. That’s hardly surprising.
I’ve had many a late night debate (often slightly drunken and occasionally heated) over the merits and pitfalls of wind power, and this topic has never been raised, not once. I have to say I’m quite glad about that, because if someone did bring this up in a debate it would surely flummox me.
While it probably cannot be argued that this amount of money is being paid to wind farms, the government does try to put a realistic spin on things. They (DECC) say that only 10% of constraint payments go to wind power. Ok, but they also say this:
“No generator of any type should receive an excessive benefit from constraint payments. That is why the Government is currently consulting on the introduction of a Transmission Constraint Licence Condition later this year to help ensure we don’t encounter problems in the balancing market when normal competition amongst generators is distorted by transmission constraints. Planned upgrades to the most congested parts of the transmission system are also underway which will help ease constraints. The upgrades will begin to take effect from 2013.”
In other words, they know there’s a problem and they’re sorting it. Well that’s something I suppose.
I’m still a huge fan of wind power and watching a giant turbine atop a green, verdant hill turning lazily in the breeze never fails to bring a smile to my face. This discovery, however, as really dented my optimism is the industry.
As I said in a recent post, I’m happy to pay a proportion of my energy bill to help fund future renewable energy projects. I’m not happy, though, to pay what would appear to be a tasty little loophole payment to the wind power companies. I understand that they may lose money in subsidies, but surely this should be factored into any cost benefit analysis that is conducted prior to investment, not realised at a later date and left up to the taxpayer/energy customer to fork out.
If this is an issue, then any future wind developments must not be able to fleece us like this. On a positive note; the first step, a call for more transparency over constraint payments, appears to have been taken already.
If wind is to increase in such numbers as are expected, we shouldn’t have to face a future where we continue to pay these massive sums for having too much energy. Why don’t they use it for something else, like pumped storage?
Really at this point I should also question the government’s stupidity and short-sightedness over this but – just like a turbine blade – that keeps coming around again, and again, and again. So I can’t be bothered. They’re stupid; we’re all very clever. Let’s just leave it at that.
If the anti-wind lobby or – heaven help us – The Daily Mail really gets hold of this story and runs with it we could be in trouble. Even I think it’s stupid, and I love wind power. So if you do know any slightly deranged, outspoken country folk who hate wind power, please don’t forward this blog onto them. Thanks.
So yes, crazy as it may be to be paying millions of pounds to stop wind farms doing exactly what we’ve already paid millions of pounds for them to do in the first place – making electricity; at least it looks like something is being done about this. Let’s keep a very careful eye on this space shall we…?
P.S. I still think it’s insane.
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Photos courtesy of Renewable UK