Developer pulls out of offshore windfarm plan

Crystal Rigg Windfarm at Whiteadder Reservoir, Berwickshire.

Crystal Rigg Windfarm at Whiteadder Reservoir, Berwickshire.

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THE Scottish Borders is one of Scotland’s main windfarm electricity generating areas but while that wasn’t much help to the population during the cold spell, when the lack of wind meant the turbines produced only seven per cent of the power required, windfarm developers continue to focus on the region and the Lammermuirs in particular.

Windfarm developers Fred Olsen Renewables (FOR) recently announced that they were no longer working as the preferred developer for the 450MW Forth Array offshore windfarm 17km off St Abbs, opting instead to focus their attention on onshore wind turbines. Profits from their onshore developments such as the two phases of Crystal Rig windfarm in the Lammermuirs have persuaded them that they are “the most efficient use of our development resource”.

“Crystal Rig Wind Farms I and II, for example, provide almost 10 per cent of Scotland’s operational wind capacity,” said FOR’s UK managing director Nick Emery.

““FOR sees a clear future for offshore wind and believe it will make an important contribution to the recently announced Scottish Governments’ renewable targets as part of the UK commitment to 2020. Our decision to step back from the Forth Array project is a consequence of our intention to concentrate our investment in those projects we feel we can best deliver in the short to medium term. Plans will now include additional investment in our Scottish onshore development portfolio.”

The proposed offshore Forth Array windfarm would have 70 to 90 turbines and construction was planned to start in 2013 and completed in 2018, with energy being produced in 2016.

“As an independent power producer we have concluded that the most efficient use of our development resource is in our onshore portfolios, where historically we have had considerable success,” added Mr Emery.

Construction of the off-shore turbines is likely to take place in Dundee but FOR had been looking at using Eyemouth for “the purposes of asset management and personnel bases for construction”. It remains to be seen who will replace FOR in the project and whether they will also consider Eyemouth as a base for offshore windfarm support.

Consultation is taking place with commercial fisheries, recreational sailors and wild life tourism operators but the proposed site is outside areas designated as shipping lanes..

The proposed 20km long site off the Berwickshire coast takes in approximately 130km of sea bed and will involve undersea cabling and offshore transformers, export cables to shore, on-shore cabling and a new sub-station.

Both the UK and Scottish Governments are committed to renewable energy schemes; the vast majority of which currently involve onshore wind farms.

The pressure being put on areas such as the Lammermuirs in Berwickshire led Scottish Borders Council to draw up Local Plan guidelines on wind energy in 2010; councillors insisting on adding that “there is no space for further expansion and growing concern about the increasing cumulative impact of windfarms in the Lammermuirs”.

“We have been proactive in supporting wind farms when appropriate but we are very concerned about the number of proposals we are getting,” said Charles Johnston, SBC principal planning officer.

“There are major concerns that the potential number of approvals in the Scottish Borders is completely disproportionate to the capacity of the landscape to absorb such developments.”

But the recent cold spell, when pressure on power supplies was at its greatest, revealed a weakness in relying too much on wind power - that the turbines produce very little power because there is usually very little wind during periods of cold, clear weather.

During the freezing conditions experienced in December output from major windfarms such as Crystal Rig fell to as low as 2.5 per cent of their potential generation capacity at the same time as power demand rose to close to the highest level yet recorded.

When wind energy was at its lowest and demand at its highest power had to be piped in from France. Ironically the majority of electricity in France is generated from nuclear plants which the Scottish Government is opposed to and once Torness, on the Berwickshire/East Lothian border is decommissioned in 2023 the Government plan on Scotland being completely free of nuclear energy.

The problem of low output from wind turbines during periods of particularly cold weather has already been identified by the National Grid, who reported: “From a security of energy supply perspective the key issue is the uncertainty and variability of output.

“In two periods of low wind output over several days in early November 2009 and early January 2010 both of these periods were relatively cold for the time of year and coincided with relatively high electricity demands.”

And concern was expressed about the “growth in the impact of wind power with its inherent uncertainty and volatility”.

National Grid statistics for the most recent spell of cold weather show that wind generation output was only 7% at the time of the winter peak.

“In terms of generation availability we saw a small contribution from wind generation at the time of the demand peak” reads their report.

“The fuel types graph shows the scramble to bring hydro, pumped storage, the French interconnector and even seldom used oil-fired capacity online to meet demand. Wind is not even visible on the graph, providing a mere 61MW at peak from a total UK metered capacity of 2,430MW, only 2.5% of its theoretical capacity.

“The forecast out-turn graph shows wind output falling as low as 20MW, less than 0.1% of headline capacity.”

By the end of 2010, 27 per cent of Scotland’s electricity came from renewable sources - mainly wind - and supporters of green energy refute claims that it is unreliable. Environment minister Roseanna Cunningham said: “By definition, wind energy is reliant on wind. But the point is that we are not only focusing on wind energy.”

Scotland is committed to EU 2020 targets: renewable sources to generate 80 per cent of its annual electricity consumption by 2020; 31% by 2011; and renewables sources to provide 11 per cent of Scotland’s heat demand by 2020.