Jeremy Clarkson recently wrote, “I predict that 30 years from now there will be just one wind turbine in Britain. It’ll have been kept as a reminder of the time when mankind temporarily took leave of its senses and decided wind, waves and lashings of tofu could somehow generate enough electricity for the whole planet.”
Generous government subsidies are enabling Britain’s 10 worst-performing wind farms to earn a total of £1.3m a year, despite producing electricity worth only half of that.
The Ecotricity wind turbine beside the M4 in Reading runs on average at just over 16% of its capacity. It earned £229,700 in 2010-11, but half of that was paid in subsidy as the electricity generated was worth about £115,000.
The worst performing turbine is at GlaxoSmithKline’s pharmaceutical plant at Barnard Castle, Co Durham which ran at just 8.2% of capacity and earned £26,000, half of which was paid as subsidy by the government’s renewable obligation scheme.
Whitelee in East Renfrewshire, Britain’s biggest onshore wind farm, with 140 turbines is not much better, running at an average 20% of capacity, or load factor – the proportion of power generated compared with the theoretical maximum. This was still enough to ensure that in 2011 it got £31m in subsidy, according to government figures.
The industry generally quotes an average load factor of 30%. The Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) has found that in 2010 79% of Britain’s wind farms are operating at less than 30% of capacity.
The renewables industry blames poor performance in 2010 on a shortage of wind. However, the figures also raise serious questions about where turbines are being built. All top 10 performers are in Scotland, and the only two that operate at more than 50% capacity are on the Shetland Isles. John Constable, director of the REF, said: “The consumer is paying to make these wind farms artificially viable. Why are our subsidies so generous that it makes sense to build wind farms in places where there is, frankly, no wind? This is just not smart.”
The problem with wind power is demonstrated well in Denmark, which embraced the technology years ago. And as a result not a single conventional power station has been shut down. They’re needed for the days when the wind doesn’t blow, or blows too strongly. Worse, ramping them up and down all the time uses more energy than keeping them working constantly. So the Danes have paid a fortune to build wind farms that don’t work, and, in return, their normal power stations are producing even more CO2 than they did in the past.
Rural Voice asks: “What is the point in building hundreds of wind turbines that are ruining our countryside and which can’t even do the job they’re built for? The only winners are the energy companies which own them. The environment loses, the taxpayer loses, and rural community loses.