Blowing in the wind

Today, The Times claims that “Wind farms paid to close on windy days”. Unfortunately, because of the paywall, I can’t actually see the article to comment on it. Luckily, the Daily Mail has written their own version of the article (direct link), based on The Times‘s investigation. Yay for churnalism!

Wind farms were paid £25million not to produce electricity when it is ‘too windy’ last year, figures revealed today.

There was a staggering 13,733 per cent rise in the payments on the year before.

Turbine operators are ordered by the National Grid to shutdown to avoid too much power being produced during gales.

These payments are based on something called the “transmission constraint agreement“. In a nutshell, transmission constraint agreements are paid to power stations of all types – not just wind turbines – when demand is low. The reason wind farms get the bulk of the payments seems to be because it’s easier to shut them down – you simply apply the brakes. Coal and gas on the other hand can’t be shut down as easily – you need to keep them hot so they can start up again when demand returns, and this wastes fuel.

First of all, the claim that it represents a “staggering 13,733 per cent rise” is rather misleading. According to this article in the Telegraph, an initial trial run took place in May 2010 – involving just two wind farms shutting down for one hour – but it looks like the constraint scheme didn’t start properly until much later – either at the end of the year or at the start of 2011. Comparing full operation with a trial run is ridiculous.

Secondly, The Mail claims that

National Grid, a public company, have never before admitted how much is spent getting wind farms to close.

… except as we’ve just seen, they “admitted” it back in 2010.

There is a good point buried in this – as Ofgem, the office that regulates energy generation points out, the power companies themselves set the constraint payments, and the rates they tender are currently more than they’d be paid, per megawatt, to actually generate power. This is a perfectly reasonable argument, but simply attacking the idea of constraint payments, as The Mail seems to be doing, is ridiculous. The electricity system always needs to be in balance, and as long as the people who transmit the power aren’t the people who generate it, these payments will unfortunately always be necessary in some form.

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  1. #1 by Skillington on Monday, 6th February 2012 - 9:48 UTC

    The Transmission Constraint Agreement is about making payments when the grid doesn’t need electricity. But the Daily Mail article is about making payments when the wind farms are unable to produce it.

    Does the Transmission Constraint Agreement also pay out for when power generators are *unable* to supply electricity (as opposed to it just not being needed)?

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