Wind and solar farms in the Westcountry produced 9% of the counties’ electrical energy at a cost of about £35 million a year in state subsidy, according to a comprehensive new analysis of renewable energy performance.
Detailed power output figures collected by the Renewable Energy Foundation and now published online have also revealed that some of the biggest and most controversial schemes in the region produce just a fraction of the electricity promised by developers.
The joint output across the two counties could only power half the energy needs of Plymouth, REF calculated.
The giant, 35 acre, 6.8MW project at Crinacott Farm, Holsworthy, in Devon, had a productivity of about 9.5% during a recent 12-month period, producing about 5,700 MWh of energy, enough for about 1,500 domestic households.
Solar panel arrays in Devon and Cornwall produce around 14%, REF’s new database reveals, and receive about £20m a year in subsidy.
Industrial size wind turbines fare a little better – with the flagship Fullabrook Down wind farm, which is the second largest in England, having a productivity since commissioning of only 25%.
It generates electricity equivalent to about 2% of the electrical energy needs of the two counties, while taking subsidies of about £5.5m a year.
The combined output of all solar and wind power in Devon and Cornwall, many of which are highly controversial, comes to 670 gigawatt hours of electrical energy per year, which is equivalent to about 0.2% of UK consumption, and just over half of the total electricity needs of Plymouth, which consumes 1,000 GWh per year.
John Constable, director for REF, said the figures raised questions about whether consumers were getting value for money.
He added: “The subsidies have overheated the sector and are unaffordable – the current cost is about £3 billion a year, and will rise to about £8bn a year in 2020.
“The cumulative total over the lifetime of the schemes will run into the hundreds of billions. This is completely unaffordable, macro-economically dangerous and bound to fail. Everyone knows that it has to stop, but neither Treasury nor DECC seems to have the guts to really put the brakes on.”
New figures from the National Grid for October showed that wind power smashed energy generation records.
Wind energy hit a record high on October 20, providing a 24% daily share of the UK’s electricity needs, beating the previous record of 22% set in August, the industry body RenewableUK said.
Wind energy’s share of the monthly electricity mix was 12.3%, which beat last October’s share of 8%, and is close to the December record of 13%.
The new peak “half-hour” record was also repeatedly broken. At the start of October the record high was 7,920 megawatts (MW). This was broken over a number of days and now stands at a high of 8,100MW, enough to power 17 million homes at the time of generation.
In addition, the official statistics show that wind power generated more than nuclear for 11 full days over October, though energy giant EDF shut down four reactors in the summer.
Jennifer Webber, RenewableUK’s director of external affairs, said: “These figures shine a light on the full extent of wind’s powerful performance over October. To beat nuclear for seven days straight, and 11 days overall in a month, is unprecedented. We saw August set new records for generation and October has followed hot on its heels”. Dr Philip Bratby, a retired scientist in the nuclear power industry and a member of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said developers of wind turbines exaggerate the output by often as much as 100%.
“We have pointed this out many times in objections and at appeals, public inquiries and hearings.
“Developers try to hide the details of how poorly wind turbines and solar farms actually perform, by using equivalent number of houses powered.
“We know that the subsidies paid are anything from two to six times the value of the electricity produced, and the subsidies are inflation proofed, with a life of 20 years.”
Renewable energy firm breached advertising code
A renewable energy firm breached the advertising standards code by “misleading” the public over the performance of a planned wind farm in Devon, a watchdog has confirmed.
Two complaints against RES UK and Ireland Ltd in connection with an approved scheme for nine large turbines at Den Brook were upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The company said the power plant between North Tawton and Bow “will be capable of generating up to 18 megawatts (MW) of renewable electricity”, the maximum possible performance for nine 2MW machines.
It added: “This is sufficient to meet the annual average needs of approximately 9,425 homes; which, for comparison, around 40 per cent of all the homes in West Devon”.
The ASA agreed with the Taw Turbine Action Group, which challenged the publicity, and told RES not to publish the advertisement again in its current form.
In ruling, the ASA noted that was “not possible for a wind farm to operate at the installed capacity all the time”.
“We noted that data provided by RES showed that the capacity factor for the wind farm was in fact 25.5%,” it added. “We therefore considered it was misleading to make a claim about the amount of electricity the wind farm was capable of producing based on its maximum possible output, even when qualified by the phrase ‘up to’.”
The Den Brook scheme was granted planning permission by West Devon Borough Council in 2009 and is scheduled to be built by next year.
However, it remains deeply controversial in terms of the measurement of turbine noise and is the subject of a judicial review. The High Court in Bristol will this week assess whether the council has acted unlawfully.
The ASA also upheld a second complaint over the number of homes in West Devon it could provide with power, which it said was calculated correctly using national average load factors and figures for household consumption.
However, the authority added: “Whilst we acknowledged that the claimed figures had been accurately calculated based on UK household energy consumption, we considered that because consumers would understand the claim related to energy consumption in West Devon specifically, and we understood energy consumption in West Devon was higher than the UK average, the figures overestimated the number and percentage of households in West Devon whose energy needs could be met by the wind farm’s output.”
RES said it was “deeply disappointed” that a review by the ASA has upheld its initial ruling regarding two statements on the company’s Den Brook Wind Farm website.
It said the ruling is based on a “misunderstanding of the facts and takes an entirely subjective and unsubstantiated view of the general public’s understanding of the statements”.
A RES spokesman added: “The statements on our website were therefore technically accurate and were presented in an honest and open manner with no intention to mislead the public or misrepresent the wind farm. However, in line with the honesty and transparency which RES applies to all its dealings with local communities, we have already clarified our statements on our website in changes made in August this year.”