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Wind Farms Paid £136m To Switch Off Last Year

January 21, 2020

By Paul Homewood

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Wind farms were paid up to £3 million per day to switch off their turbines and not produce electricity last week, The Telegraph can disclose.

Energy firms were handed more than £12 million in compensation following a fault with a major power line carrying electricity to England from turbines in Scotland.

The payouts, which will ultimately be added onto consumer bills, were between 25 per cent and 80 per cent more than the firms, which own giant wind farms in Scotland, would have received had they been producing electricity, according to an analysis of official figures.

The payments have prompted questions in Parliament, as one charity warned that consumers were having to fund the consequences of an "excessive" number of onshore wind farms, which can overwhelm the electricity grid.

In December an analysis by the Renewable Energy Foundation, a charity that monitors energy use, revealed that the operators of 86 wind farms in Britain were handed more than £136 million in so-called "constraint payments" last year – a new record.

REF has warned that consumers are left to foot the bill for wind farm operators having to reduce their output as a result of an "excessive" number of turbines in Scotland leaving the electricity grid unable to cope on occasions such as when there are strong winds.

The Western Link, a 530-mile high-voltage cable  running from the west coast of Scotland to the north coast of Wales, was built to help overcome the problem by providing more capacity to transport green energy from onshore wind farms in Scotland, to England and Wales.

But the line, which became fully operational in 2018, has been dogged by difficulties.

In the latest incident, it "tripped" on Jan 10, prompting a spike in the number of wind farms being asked to shut down temporarily because they were producing more energy than could be transported to consumers’ homes.

On the following day  – last Saturday – 50 wind farms were asked to stop producing electricity, and given a total of £2.5 million in compensation to do so. Last Wednesday, the figure was as high as £3.3 million, which was paid out to £3.3 million wind farms by National Grid’s Electricity System Operator (ESO) arm. 

This weekend the payments continued to be made as the power line remained out of use amid an investigation into the cause of the fault.

Dr John Constable, director of REF, which first exposed the scale of "constraint payments, said: "The Scottish Government has permitted excessive and environmentally damaging growth in wind power north of the border which has put the electricity system under great strain and burdened English and Welsh consumers not only with constraint payments but also with the additional expense of a £1 billion interconnector that is itself proving unreliable. The environment and the consumer have been betrayed over and over again.”

Viscount Ridley, the science writer and former businessman, has now put down a series of written questions in the House of Lords about the Western Link and its cost to taxpayers.

However a National Grid ESO spokesman insisted that the cost of managing the amount of electricity in the grid amounted to just £1 of the average annual household bill of £554."

"The alternative to constraint payments is building more electricity transmission assets which is more costly, meaning consumers’ bills would rise,” the spokesman added.

A National Grid spokesman confirmed that the link was "currently unavailable for service" while the cause of the outage was being investigated.

Luke Clark, director of strategic communications at RenewableUK, which represents green energy companies, said: “Since the turn of the year, wind energy has been the UK’s biggest source of electricity and would have provided more if the grid were operating at full power.

"Wind generators are compensated as being forced to stop generating because of grid failures means a significant loss of revenue. Bringing the Western Link fully back online as soon as possible is the best solution for renewable energy generators and consumers”.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2020/01/19/wind-farms-paid-3-million-per-day-switch-turbines/ 

 

The worst thing about these restraint payments is that wind farm operators don’t only get paid for the value of electricity, but also the value of the subsidy foregone, in this case the Renewables Obligation.

John Constable has helpfully listed the payments made last week, and the they work out at around £68/MWh. The current RO subsidy is £48.78/MWh:

 

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https://ref.org.uk/ref-blog/356-the-western-link-a-new-failure-highlights-the-overbuild-of-scottish-wind-and-raises-new-questions 

 

The Telegraph contains two highly misleading comments:

1) However a National Grid ESO spokesman insisted that the cost of managing the amount of electricity in the grid amounted to just £1 of the average annual household bill of £554."

It does no take a genius to work out that £136m spread over approximately 27m households comes to an average of £5, and not £1. Presumably National Grid have played the usual trick of not counting the extra cost paid for by non-domestic users

2) "The alternative to constraint payments is building more electricity transmission assets which is more costly, meaning consumers’ bills would rise,” the [National Grid] spokesman added.

This is an outright lie, which I’m amazed the Telegraph allowed to be printed without challenge.

The reality is that every MW of wind capacity has to be backed up by reliable, dispatchable capacity.

The Western Link alone is estimated to have cost £1bn, and this does not include the cost of constructing other transmission lines purely to distribute wind power, such as Beauly-Denny. The cost of these should be recharged to wind farms, and not charged to bill payers.

There is therefore no need for wind farms, or the associated transmission interconnectors, unless they are economically self supporting, without subsidies and restraint payments.

 

Of course. £130m is still chicken feed.

But. regardless of the specific issues around Scottish wind farms, restraint payments will inevitable mushroom in years to come, if wind capacity increases in line with targets. This is because there will be far too much capacity at times when it is windy or demand is low.

It is a problem the government quickly needs to get to grips with, by making clear that restraint payments will be not be tolerated in future.

34 Comments
  1. GeoffB permalink
    January 21, 2020 12:06 pm

    Windy summer nights will expose the folly of building more wind farms, the constraints payments will be huge. I did see a report on the new Scottish wind farms, at the low strike prices of around £50 /MWh, are relying on lack of grid capacity, so they get the higher constraint payments, I think it was GWPF one. The Western link has failed before so maybe there is a design problem, it was delayed a year by difficulties in making the cable.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      January 22, 2020 12:24 am

      This is now the sixth failure of the Western Link since it was inaugurated in late 2017. It had previously been shut down to repair and diagnose faults in May, June and September 2018, and February and June 2019 – some of the shutdowns lasting months rather than weeks. Add to that the failures on the Moyle interconnector to Ireland, and IFA 1 (caused by a trawler dragging an anchor, knocking out 1GW for several months) and you have to say that reliance on interconnectors is tempting fate.

  2. cajwbroomhill permalink
    January 21, 2020 1:29 pm

    We owe this sort of crazy, expensive anomaly to Ed Miliband, Briony (now Baroness) Worthington, of FoE and a climate alarmist and, of course, left liberal.
    High time their Climate Change Acts (2008,9) were repealed, as useless for any useful purpose and ruinous to our nation.
    Boris is busy but could set the repeal in motion, for a national saving with no regrets, except for the many environmental troughers, parasitic on honest citizens.

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      January 21, 2020 1:46 pm

      I doubt you’ll get any change out of Boris. He appears to be as fully signed up to climate insanity as the rest of them. It obviously hasn’t yet dawned on him that the average punter doesn’t give a rat’s and only goes along with this stuff because the Blessed Broadcasting Church and Saint David Attenborough tell him to.

      • Old Englander permalink
        January 22, 2020 7:19 am

        It might also be his girlfriend.

  3. Tym Fern permalink
    January 21, 2020 1:36 pm

    Wind: 5.5% UK demand 13:30 21/01/2020

    • Nial permalink
      January 22, 2020 9:13 am

      “The reality is that every MW of wind capacity has to be backed up by reliable, dispatchable capacity”

      Wind: 5.5% UK demand 13:30 21/01/2020

      And a day later, 22/01/2020 it’s 4.5% and hasn’t been higher for 24 hours.

      Hurrah for Coal gas and nuclear keeping our schools and hospitals open!

      • Tym Fern permalink
        January 22, 2020 4:43 pm

        Now down to 2.2%, not even producing a GW!

  4. Gerry, England permalink
    January 21, 2020 1:40 pm

    Hmm…so there is a financial benefit to not generating electricity for the owners. I wonder how easy the link is to sabotage?

    Good to see lots of fine British companies in that list. Fred Olsen? I thought he did cruise ships?

  5. StephenP permalink
    January 21, 2020 1:41 pm

    I am puzzled.
    We are told by the wind farmers that their electricity costs less to produce than coal fired electricity.
    If so why do they need these payments. They should contract to provide a guaranteed amount of power, and if we have a situation like the current anticyclone, they will have to pay someone else to make up the shortfall.
    If the wind is blowing strongly, then they should be able to meet their contracted amount of power.
    At present wind is providing 2.46GW against a demand of 44.5GW.
    Heaven help us when all the EVs arrive.
    Wind power backup seems like paying a taxi with its engine running in case your car won’t start when you need it

    • January 21, 2020 4:50 pm

      Renewables operators can’t lose, and the rest can’t win. That’s the system.

  6. January 21, 2020 2:43 pm

    Unbelievably the government is still encouraging the building of more offshore wind farms, whilst the Scottish government is encouraging the building of onshore and offshore wind farms. The warnings of experienced power engineers and of the late Prof Sir David MacKay continue to be ignored. It is causing massive fuel poverty and will all end in tears, blackouts and civil unrest. Get your home generator while stocks last.

  7. Ivan permalink
    January 21, 2020 2:47 pm

    I think you got a bit mixed up over the £136m. That is the total constraint payment, not a specifically domestic payment. How that charge goes through the system and gets shared between domestic and other users I’m not immediately sure. But a useful rule of thumb is that domestic demand is, on average, a notch under 40% of UK power demand. That’s why I hate the “this generator will serve this many homes” measure of generator size, when so much of our power demand is non-domestic.

    REF’s website allows you to see the month-by-month constraint payments without taking out a subscription.
    https://www.ref.org.uk/constraints/indexbymth.php
    More detailed data you have to pay for. If I had nothing better to do with my time, and access to more detailed data, I’d be interested to investigate how constraint payments vary with the level of wind generation and the availability of the western HVDC link. At a glace at the constraint payments, which continue to increase as wind capacity increases, it isn’t helping very much. My guess is that the main reason for constraining off wind these days is grid stability rather than Scotland-England capacity, especially as so much new capacity is North Sea and connected directly to England.

    • January 21, 2020 4:07 pm

      You misunderstand, Ivan.

      The £136m is the total payment, as you say, and that works out at £5 per household

      Some of this drops onto domestic bills, but all ends up being paid by Joe Public in one way or another.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        January 22, 2020 12:27 am

        I’m sure our commenter Joe Public hopes not!

      • Ivan permalink
        January 22, 2020 12:30 pm

        I now see that the following sentence was intended to imply that was what you meant, rather than the garble I took it for. I don’t think many people would understand that being told how their domestic bill was affected was a “trick”.

      • January 22, 2020 1:51 pm

        Unfortunately it’s a common trick for the renewable lobby/govt to hide the true cost of renewable subsidies by only declaring the small proportion that actually drops on domestic energy bills

      • Ivan permalink
        January 22, 2020 7:02 pm

        OK, I do now see you have a reasonable point that what he said was, if that was all he said, incomplete and thus potentially misleading.

        There are two different and reasonable questions that can easily be made to look like the same question. What’s does it cost? How much do I pay? We really want both questions answered, but one number alone does not answer both.

  8. Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
    January 21, 2020 4:37 pm

    “constraint payments”

    This sounds like a euphemism for filthy lucre.
    [ as in Chaucer’s phrase from the Prioress’s Tale: foule usure and lucre of vileynye (“foul usury and lucre of villainy”)]

  9. January 21, 2020 10:08 pm

    Is that a subsidy? Of course, it is. But the fans of wind and solar won’t call it such. Just imagine that you just have to produce as much as you can no matter if the market needs it or not. You will always be paid. If the market does not need what you have, you will simply be compensated. Just imagine a producer of anything had such a sweet deal? But, most companies still need to sell what they produce. If they can’t, that’s market forces and hard luck. Except not for the wind and solar folks. We need honest figures when it comes to those energy sources. Those we get now are bogus.

  10. January 21, 2020 11:04 pm

    Reblogged this on ajmarciniak.

  11. January 21, 2020 11:15 pm

    Paul R4 tonight another Fishlake prog
    I wonder why ?
    ..they already had one doco featuring relatives only last month
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000dfqb

  12. It doesn't add up... permalink
    January 22, 2020 2:51 am

    Another part of the picture

    http://watt-logic.com/2020/01/10/negative-electricity-prices/

    Renewables on CFDs can get full compensation of their strike price to carry on producing. That’s a massive subsidy for something like Walney which gets £170.03/MWh. So we pay for the most expensive power to keep going while the market prices crucifies normal generators.

  13. Michael Adams permalink
    January 22, 2020 5:46 am

    With large and expected constraint payments you can reduce the headline price of the electricity actually put in to the grid therefore MSM can bleat on about the ever cheaper cost of wind electricity. Its a cheap slight of hand trick and the public falls for it.

  14. January 22, 2020 11:04 am

    Today Solar 1.4% Wind 3.6%, and coal has been fired up to help. Enuf said?

  15. cajwbroomhill permalink
    January 22, 2020 11:59 am

    “Windy summer nights” may hamper wind turbines’ electricty generation but antcyclonic windless nights will negate it.

  16. January 22, 2020 12:48 pm

    I’ve just updated my blog to show a projection in 2025 where we will probably have an electricity supply deficit of some 16GW. I would appreciate any comments – use the contact link on the page or post here. Figures taken from Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Updated energy and emissions projections 2018 2018-2033

  17. Alan Sedgwick permalink
    January 22, 2020 1:43 pm

    How can I highlight a new topic?

    • January 22, 2020 1:49 pm

      You can summarise it here, or on the About page, Alan

      If it’s too detailed, let me know and I’ll email you

      Thanks

      • Alan Sedgwick permalink
        January 22, 2020 2:55 pm

        North East lunchtime news today highlighted that the Lake District could lose the soil from the hills and mountains in the next 10 years due to climate change. An expert from the university of Carlisle was interviewed without challenge or comment.

  18. StephenP permalink
    January 22, 2020 6:19 pm

    As far as the Lake District is concerned, most of it is either down to grass, grazed by sheep and cattle, or forested. Plenty of soil cover so less at-risk from erosion.
    The only risk of losing the soil would be if the vegan fraternity had the livestock removed and ploughed the slopes to grow vegetables.
    The climate in the Lake District is not exactly suitable for a wide range of vegetables, so the diet would have to be based on potatoes, turnips, swedes, cabbage and kale.
    My nutrition lecturers at Cambridge had tried such a diet in WW2 as an experiment to see whether Britain could grow enough food in the event of the U-boats cutting off food imports.
    They said it was possible, but very boring. After six months they went back to normal rations and put on a lot of weight as they had six months of ration coupons to buy butter, meat etc.

  19. James Broadhurst permalink
    January 24, 2020 9:38 am

    If these wind farms are constrained according to the boilerplate capacity then this is theft on a grand scale. A 200MW wind farm which receives £100 per MWHr in a constraint payment will receive £20,000 per hour. However, the actual efficiency of the farm is only 25% therefore the farm would only, on average, have generated 50MWHr per hour and thus receives £20,000 or £400 per MWHr.

    If you read Professor Gordon Hughes papers on the long term reduction in efficiency and look at the astonishing reduction in efficiency of the big wind farms such as Whitelee, this is becoming ludicrous.

  20. jack broughton permalink
    January 24, 2020 8:38 pm

    I’m presently engaged in a bit of a battle in The Engineer regarding the real cost of the new Dogger Bank windfarm: (the green blob is well established there, as in all press). The green-press are claiming below £ 50/MWh, but I can’t tell what subsidies will be applied to this, e.g. constraint payments, back-up costs etc.

    Can anyone help clarify this please?

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