Wind farms paid nearly £2m to switch off – even as customers face soaring energy bills

Wind farm turbines – Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Wind farms were paid more than £1.8 million to shut down this week – at a time when consumers face huge rises in energy bills because of the spiralling cost of natural gas.

The turbines were switched off over the course of three days because the electricity they would have produced could not have reached the regions that needed it.

Instead, electricity from gas-fired power stations was used at a further cost to consumers of several million pounds.

An analysis by the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), a charitable think tank that has criticised wind energy over its reliability and cost, found that 38 wind farms – all in Scotland – received payments totalling £1.85 million over the course of three days not to generate electricity.

The constraint payments are made by the National Grid to balance supply and demand across the electricity network. Payments tend to be highest on warm, windy days when turbines can produce a lot of electricity that is not needed.

‘High winds, low winds – whatever the weather, the consumer suffers’

Dr John Constable, the director of REF, said: “Uncontrollable and heavily subsidised generation such as wind-power has made the UK electricity system into a costly and dysfunctional joke.

“High winds, low winds – whatever the weather, the consumer suffers. It's almost the only thing about wind that is reliable.”

REF estimated that the biggest payment, of just over £400,000, went to Moray East offshore wind farm, and £167,000 to Griffin wind farm.

The cost of wholesale gas, used in gas-fired power stations, has soared in recent months amid claims that Russia is manipulating supply, threatening to push back the post-Covid recovery in Europe.

The crisis has cast a spotlight on Britain's energy mix amid deepening concern that the country has become reliant on a combination of increasingly expensive gas and wind power, which critics say is unreliable and costly because of consumer subsidies.

A spokesperson for the National Grid Electricity System Operator said: “Constraint payments are the most efficient option to balance supply and demand, keep costs down for consumers and ensure secure and reliable electricity.

“The alternative to constraint payments is building more electricity transmission infrastructure, which is more costly, meaning consumers' bills would rise. We continuously weigh up constraint costs versus the cost of building an asset in a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis.”

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