The Real Cost of Wind Power

T H E   B O R D E R S   N E T W O R K

O F   C O N S E R V A T I O N   G R O U P S

11 November 2015 MSP


Fergus Ewing

Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism

 

Dear Mr Ewing,

 

I note that in your recent letter to Ms Rudd as well as expressing your concerns about security of electricity supply (which I am quite sure MS Rudd fully shares) you refer to Scotland as an 'energy rich country'.

 

Your advisors must surely have pointed out that in terms of energy security, Scotland's contribution (as an energy rich country) is actually rather modest. Without Longannet it will consist primarily of Torness and Hunterston (together 2.6GW), Peterhead (currently restricted to 0.5GW) and about 1.5GW of hydro.

These would not cover Scotland's peak demand of more than 5GW in the absence of sufficient wind generation. DECC have in the past credited wind with 7% of installed capacity in security assessment. However actual experience has shown this to be an overly optimistic figure. UK wind output reached a minimum of 0.095GW on 1st August, a load factor of 0.7%. The recent wind lull which was a significant contributor to National Grid's problems reached a low point of 0.32GW, 2.4% load factor.

A safe assumption as to the guaranteed contribution of wind generation might thus be based on a load factor of around 1%. Scotland's 5.5GW of operational wind could then be counted on to produce no more than a trivial 0.055GW. Scotland's wind generation can in no way 'alleviate the situation' which is most likely to occur at times of persistent high pressure, and thus low wind, at some of the coldest times of year. Building all consented wind, together with that in the planning system, would treble this capacity, do horrendous damage to Scotland's landscape and rural amenity, and still provide only 0.165GW.

Nor, as I hope you have also been advised, is there much to be expected of new pumped storage. There is limited opportunity for this, certainly nothing like the amount needed for a single day's storage, let alone several near windless days as occurred last week. Pumped storage construction would also have a much greater lead time than a new gas fired power station.

The only policy change which can remedy this situation is one which removes the disincentives to the construction of new dispatchable capacity. Colin Gibson, previously National Grid's power network director, has estimated the levelised cost of new gas generation to have a median value of £68/MWh, significantly above current wholesale prices. No company responsible to its shareholders can justify such an investment when they can instead put up wind turbines which can undercut other forms of generation due to subsidies comparable to the wholesale price. It is thus unsurprising that Iberdrola have not proceeded with a gas fired power station to replace Cockenzie.

 

Alas, this electricity which the renewables industry claims to be cheap is more expensive to consumers who have to pay not only for these subsidies but also for the network infrastructure costs (e.g. £600M for Beauly-Denny) and backup generation costs (e.g. £2.3k/MWh for diesel generators) consequent on wind's intermittency. Mr Gibson has estimated that these add a further £65/MW to the cost of wind to consumers.

The solution is thus to restore a level playing field by removing renewables subsidies and assigning the associated costs to them. The UK government has made a start to the first of these and it is hypocritical of your government to oppose this while complaining about the lack of dispatchable capacity. Do you and your colleagues have the courage to admit that your pursuit of wind power is a major part of the problem and not any solution?

Yours sincerely,

Jack W Ponton FREng FIChemE Vice chair, BNCG

CC   Rt Hon Amber Rudd, MP
       Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change