Switch off subsidies for inefficient wind farms (The Yorkshire Post)

CPS Energy Expert Tony Lodge writes for The Yorkshire Post on John Hayes MP’s recent comments on windfarms. 

JOHN Hayes, the new Conservative Minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, has spoken of the need to delay any more onshore wind turbines until a new consultation on wind energy is completed. Though slapped down by his Liberal Democrat boss within hours of his words being widely reported, the new Energy Minister has spoken for hundreds of blighted communities, and a few academics, who have been campaigning for years against the environmental impact of wind turbines, as well as their inefficiency as a power source.

Hayes, a Lincolnshire MP, spoke for over 100 fellow Conservative MPs who wrote to David Cameron earlier this year detailing their opposition to more onshore wind turbines. Yesterday, when asked at Prime Minister’s Questions if Hayes’s words were now policy, the Prime Minister carefully echoed the need for a wider consultation on wind policy.

John Hayes makes three very valid points which will resonate with those Yorkshire communities, such as Haworth, which are tirelessly fighting new wind turbine developments. He said that we can no longer have wind turbines imposed on communities; that many turbines being proposed will not get built and that planners must be issued with new guidance to consider the location of turbines against the local landscape.

But surely we need another test which would further examine the efficiency of onshore wind energy from an economic perspective and therefore its wider deployment?

Wind generation and other weather dependent generation such as solar have a low load capacity value because the likelihood of them meeting peak demand is impossible to manage due to their unpredictability.

Although Britain has a relatively good wind resource it is not uniform across the country. Official statistics show that fewer than a third of onshore wind energy developments in Scotland achieved a load capacity of 30 per cent or more, in Northern Ireland only 25 per cent did so; in Wales the figure was below 20 per cent; while in England the figure was just 15 per cent.

The low load performance means that there are more wind farms than necessary to produce a given output. Consequently, building more rather than fewer, better located schemes clearly increases the resource costs of equipment and land required to produce a given output. This raises the point that wind farms are being too generously subsidised if the present policies clearly support low efficiency wind farms, as is the case at Ovenden Moor, near Halifax, which managed a poor 22 per cent efficiency in 2011.

The Government should now consider a policy where existing wind farms which receive subsidies but achieve load capacities well below 30 per cent could be scaled down or withdrawn. One approach could be to offer a proportion of the full subsidy for developments achieving load factors between 30 and 35 per cent; a lower proportion for those achieving a load factor between 30 and 25 per cent and nothing below that. Government should also cease payments to wind companies for “constraining off” which is when the grid cannot take surges of electricity from wind farms due to insufficient national energy demand. It must then compensate the companies. It is with this approach that the Government can save money, reduce the subsidy for wind and consequently guarantee that developers are proposing wind developments at the best sites so as to secure the best return. That developers presently want to build on sites which have such a low wind performance shows the subsidy at present is far too high.

It must set out the policy alternatives for a leaner and more efficient wind sector which is forced to take its snout out of the renewable money trough and deliver electricity to the grid from high performance sites in appropriate locations.

If the wind energy sector wants a future then it should work ambitiously with the Government to deliver a lower cost and more efficient solution before it has no choice. In reality, Britain will keep the lights on in the future by burning gas, coal and relying on old and new nuclear power stations. The Government is rightly delighted that it has secured a huge investment from Hitachi to build two large new nuclear power stations, alongside the new reactors proposed by the French.

Britain is presently relying on old king coal to shoulder the bulk of electricity demand. Coal currently fulfils around 45 per cent of the UK’s daily electricity demand. Coal plants built in the late sixties and early seventies are the real heroes in Britain’s present energy challenge; the Whitehall establishment was wrong to believe wind was the golden solution and three cheers for John Hayes for admitting as much.

Date Added: Thursday 1st November 2012