UK wind farms were paid over £4.8 million ($7.88 million) to turn off their turbines over the holidays leaving tens of thousands of homes without power as storms hit the country. The payments, known as ‘constraint payments’, were paid because the National Grid was unable to handle the extra wind power produced during the storms or because electricity usage was low. The ‘constraint payments’, which are paid to wind farms to turn off their turbines when winds hit up to 100 miles per hour, compensate firms for energy they are unable to sell. The payments are added to the bills of the country’s electricity consumers even though the storms resulted in power outages for thousands of homes.[i]
Unfortunately for UK residents, wind farms are being erected faster than the National Grid can absorb the electricity they produce. According to the National Grid, the ‘constraint payment’ system is needed to balance supply and demand and the money that wind farms receive makes up only a small proportion of ‘constraint payments’ made to electricity generators.
Meanwhile, since 2007, over five million trees have been felled in Scotland for wind farm development with fewer than 1.6 million trees planted to replace them, despite policies that demand their replacement.[ii] Scotland expects to get all its energy from renewables by 2020, which is the reason for the rapid wind farm development.
UK’s Constraint Payments
Because electricity cannot be stored and demand for electricity fluctuates, the UK’s National Grid pays generators when they need to reduce their electrical output. These ‘constraint payments’ have become necessary mainly because of intermittent electricity sources such as wind that has changed the way grid operators need to manage the grid. To determine the payment value, the National Grid receives bids from generators outlining how much they want to be paid to reduce their generation, similar to the bids received to determine payment to generators when they need to increase their generation due to demand increases. The National Grid generally accepts the lowest bid to minimize the cost that is passed on to the consumer.
Between 2011 and 2012, National Grid reported that ‘constraint payments’ to wind farms were over ten percent of the total amount paid to all generators, which totaled around £34 million ($55 million). The amount that wind farms receive in ‘constraint payments’ is in a greater proportion than the amount of the UK’s electricity that they generate, which is less than 5 percent. [iii]
UK’s Recent Constraint Payments to Wind Farms
UK wind farms received over £4.8 million ($7.88 million) since December 15, almost as much as they received in ‘constraint payments’ for the entire year of 2012, when storms hit the country. The first bout of storms resulted in wind farms receiving £653,727 on December 18 and £1.24 million on December 19 to turn off turbines at 31 wind farms. On December 21, wind farms received £113,826 and on December 22, wind farms were paid £248,399. That was followed by almost £800,000 on December 24, £432,445 on December 25, £287,454 on December 27 and £126,827 on December 28.
In total, through the Christmas holiday in 2013, wind farms received constraint payments of £32.6 million, and this amount could increase further due to more storms that were expected over the New Year. Around 75,000 homes lost power and around 50,000 households were still without power on Christmas Day. According to Renewable UK, December was a record-breaking month for wind power with over 2 million megawatt hours generated.
According to Murdo Fraser, a senior Tory MSP: “Families who are struggling with overstretched household budgets at Christmas time and have to meet ever-increasing energy bills will be horrified to see such vast sums of their money being paid to wind power companies for doing nothing. This exposes once again the over-reliance on wind developments as part of our energy mix when the Grid capacity doesn’t currently exist to properly utilize the power produced.”
Tree Destruction in Scotland for Wind Farms
Not only do wind producers get paid not to produce electricity, wind generation is resulting in cutting down thousands of acres of carbon dioxide-absorbing trees in Scotland. Since 2007, over 6,200 acres of trees have been felled in Scotland to allow the construction of wind farms. The Forestry Commission estimates that an average of 810 trees are planted per acre meaning that over five million trees have been chopped down for wind farm development. Despite the Scottish Government insisting that energy companies undertake “compensatory replanting” when trees are destroyed, fewer than 2,000 acres of trees (31.5 percent) have been replanted within wind farm sites, resulting in a net loss of about 3.4 million trees to make way for wind turbines. Supposedly, according to the government, 3,467 acres (56 percent) were “left open for environmental management”, leaving just 778 acres (12.5 percent) to still be replanted.
The Scottish government set a target of generating all of Scotland’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020, with the majority expected to come from onshore wind farms, resulting in the rapid construction of wind farms across rural Scotland. So rapid, that wind-generated electricity needs to be exported from Scotland resulting in a bottleneck because there is limited transmission capacity between Scotland and the rest of Britain. According to research published last year, there were almost as many turbines north of the British Border as there were in the rest of the UK. Scotland is also responsible for the majority of tree planting in Britain with almost two and a half times more trees planted in Scotland compared to south of the Border.
It is estimated that there are 441 large-scale turbines already constructed or given planning permission in Scotland. Planning applications for another 185 have been submitted, with 47 at the appeal stage, making over 600 wind turbines expected within Scottish borders in 2014. In addition, wind farm companies are scoping and screening sites with the potential for another 400 turbines.
According to Murdo Fraser:“It’s quite astonishing to see almost as many trees have been destroyed as there are people in Scotland. The contribution of trees to our environment has been well established through the ages. I’m still waiting to see compelling evidence of the contribution wind farms make.”
Scotland is looking to get all its energy from renewables by 2020, with wind turbine construction on the rampage in rural Scotland where trees are felled to make way for the wind farms. Despite their environmental benefits in absorbing carbon dioxide and expectations for their replanting, acres are left dormant. It appears that wind turbines in Scotland will soon equal those of the rest of the UK, where constraint payments are being paid to wind farms because the National Grid cannot handle the excess energy they generate when storms hit or usage is low. Electricity consumers in the UK will pay over £30 million (over $49 million) to stop the wind farms from generating power in 2013, over 500 percent more than they paid in 2012. As greater wind production comes on line, the cost of the ‘constraint payments’ will increase.
 The Telegraph, Wind farms handed £5 million to switch off turbines as thousands of homes left without power, December 30, 2013, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10542388/Wind-farms-handed-5-million-to-switch-off-turbines-as-thousands-of-homes-left-without-power.html
 The Telegraph, Millions of trees chopped down to make way for Scottish wind farms, January 2, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10546071/Millions-of-trees-chopped-down-to-make-way-for-Scottish-wind-farms.html
 The Carbon Brief, Why wind farms get paid to switch off, March 4, 2013, http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2013/03/why-windfarms-get-paid-to-switch-off