Wind farm shutdown nets £1.2m

IT’S an ill wind that blows no good and for Fred Olsen Renewables, who operate the Crystal Rig wind farm in the Lammermuirs, last week’s high winds courtesy of Hurricane Katia earned them £1.2 million - paid out for them NOT to produce electricity for an eight and a half hour period.

The high winds meant that too much electricity was being produced by wind farms across the country and there were fears that the network would become overloaded.

As a result the National Grid asked Crystal Rig operators and another ten wind farm operators to stop the turbines and paid them a total of £2.6 million to do nothing.

A National Grid spokesman said: “The payments are based on what the operators bid and how many megawatt hours are constrained off.”

They took the cheapest bids first but wind speeds were so high and the turbines were producing so much electricity they had to accept the Crystal Rig bid in order “to operate the network safely”.

A spokesman for Fred Olsen Renewables told The Berwickshire News: “Crystal Rig is one of the largest wind farms in the UK so it is one of the last farms we intend to get switched off, so the price is set that high.

“There are about four or five developers who do the same thing, set it at the £999 level to try and keep it up as long as possible.

“Crystal was one of the last to be shut off.”

Had the wind turbines at Crystal Rig kept turning the company would have earned £100 per megawatt an hour rather than the £999 they got for shutting down..

A similar situation arose in April this year too, although this time it was six other Scottish wind farms that were paid just under £1 million to stop producing electricity and Crystal Rig was not involved.

At the time a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said that the incident was ‘unusual’ and said they need greater power storage facilities.

“In future we need greater electrical energy storage facilities and greater interconnection with our EU neighbours so that excess energy supplies can be sold or bought where required,” he said.

However, it seems that it’s not that unusual after all and less then six months later £2.6 million was spent on not producing electricity. Wind power constraint payments in May totalled £2.6 million, and in June £0.67 million.

A Renewable Energy Foundation statement said: “It would appear that the April 2011 constraint payments were not ‘unusual’, as the Department of Energy and Climate Change at first suggested, but are an indication of an ongoing structural problem in the network, or a market flaw.”

Critics of wind farms are growing concerned that as the country’s turbine count rises, operators will keep pushing up the price they want to be paid when they have to shut down because too much electricity is being produced through wind power leaving customers to pick up the bill.

The National Grid spend £280 million balancing electricity supply and demand annually.

A National Grid spokesman, said: “One of our key roles is to balance supply and demand for energy.”

But it would seem that wind power is proving somewhat elusive when it comes to balancing supply and demand - sometimes it’s too windy, other times there’s no wind at all as happened last winter.