Repowering onshore wind in the Highlands and Islands

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Planning permissions and consents for onshore wind farms in the UK generally require decommissioning and restoration after a 25-year lifetime. With some of the earliest windfarms being built in the early 1990s we are starting to look at what happens next. With proper operations and maintenance, there is no reason that windfarms can’t operate past this lifetime, especially if they’re receiving ROC payments.

It is important if we want to continue to decarbonise the economy that these existing consented sites continue to produce low carbon electricity and this is represented in Scottish Planning Policy:

‘Proposals to repower existing wind farms which are already in suitable sites where environmental and other impacts have been shown to be capable of mitigation can help to maintain or enhance installed capacity, underpinning renewable energy generation targets. The current use of the site as a wind farm will be a material consideration in any such proposals.’

We are now coming to a stage where many of the first windfarm sites using small clusters of 600KW turbines at around 70m in tip height are coming to the end of their operational lifetime. In many cases, and in eventually in all cases it will be more economic to “repower” the site.

There are numerous benefits in utilising a site, which is already powered: they are grid connected, planned for and there’s years of real data that can inform new design. There can be some difficulties if bases needed replaced or grid connection needs upgraded, the key however is that the sites have the planning permissions in place, if not for larger turbines.

Some sites might even be economically viable to repower before the 25-year lifetime is achieved due to the financial performance of the site and the rapid evolution and increase in wind turbine size. The progress in the last 20 years has been phenomenal with prices tumbling as hub height increases and economies of scale are seen.

There are many options for repowering sites such as maintaining the grid connection capacity by increasing turbine size but lowering numbers. Some sites may wish to maintain turbine numbers but increase the size and capacity but how do these large turbines affect the visual requirements of the area? Sometimes few larger turbines are deemed more acceptable.

Although many sites will not be considered for repowering before the mid-2020s the procedures need to be put in place now and trialled on some of the earliest Highland wind farms. Given the time it has taken to consent these original windfarms there can’t be considerable downtime between decommissioning and repowering considering the ambitious decarbonisation targets the Scottish Government has set.

In an ideal world, we would move to planning for perpetuity.

Contracts for difference for new onshore wind?

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After the 2015 Conservative manifesto pledge to “end any new public subsidy” for onshore wind farms, developers have been locked out of the Contracts for Difference (CfD) framework*.  New research reveals however that ministers could allow onshore wind bid on new contracts without contradicting its previous pledge to end all new subsidies.

The report** produced by industry experts Baringa Partners, commissioned by industry body Scottish Renewables, states that by allowing developers to bid in the first round of the auction, the industry could deliver an extra 1GW of capacity in the UK at the hugely competitive price of £49.40 per MWh. This is around half of the strike price agreed by the UK Government for Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, after being adjusted for inflation.

Since the 2015 subsidy ending announcement there has been a marked slowdown in the rate of development. Neil Stuart, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables said:

“Some companies are continuing to look at projects, but it is very difficult to see them going ahead without some sort of intervention,”

“If you want to deliver onshore wind capacity at a scale, which will make a meaningful contribution to the UK’s work to meet climate change targets and secondly keep bills down for consumers then you will need a CfD framework.”

Bidding on the first round of the CfD auction would not represent a subsidy as more money would return to the consumer over the last two thirds of the contract than the limited top up in the first third as the wholesale price of electricity increases. This would represent an overall saving for consumers.

The report also highlights the incredible reductions in the costs of renewables, particularly onshore wind, around the world. The decreasing price of turbines and auction mechanisms to ensure competition have seen the price tumble worldwide. The government can still now plan an important role in offering a low-risk route to market for subsidy free onshore wind.

The report that allows the UK Government to provide subsidy free support to onshore wind comes after a Conservative thinktank Bright Blue published a new survey*** claiming that the majority of Tory voters actually support on shore wind.

*The CfD mechanism is in place to stabilise revenue and cost for developers, thereby lowering the cost of capital and in turn minimises the cost of energy.

** https://www.scottishrenewables.com/publications/baringa-sr-analysis-potential-outcome-pot-1-cfd-/

*** http://www.brightblue.org.uk/images/Green%20conservatives%20polling%20report%20Final.pdf

Scotland Loves Onshore Wind

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Four out of five people in Scotland support onshore wind according to a new poll. The poll for ComRes found 73% of people in the UK support the sector as a whole with this number increasing to 80% for Scotland. The poll was commissioned by climate charity 10:10 for the launch of their Blown Away campaign.

The results are interesting as Scotland, with the highest support for onshore wind in the UK also has the highest concentration of onshore wind in the UK.

The poll also found that people in the UK underestimate support for onshore wind. Only 11% of people think that 71% or more people in the UK support it.

Although support for onshore wind development is more popular amongst city dwellers, higher support in rural areas was recorded than previously thought.

Max Wakefield from the climate charity 10:10 was reported as saying “The UK public love wind power and they don’t even realise. It’s plainly not true onshore wind is unpopular with the UK public. It’s time our politicians caught up. Onshore wind is already the cheapest tool we have to achieve energy independence, keep bills under control and tackle climate change.””

The poll also found that Scotland has 85% support for offshore wind farms and 83% support for solar farms whilst only 33% for fracking wells for natural gas.

The polling comes after the Conservative governments victory in 2015, with 37% of the vote, has all but ended windfarm developments through subsidy cuts, as their manifesto pledged to do.

Things that go BUMP in the Night

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Signs in a number of local towns and villages have warned of parking restrictions applicable through the night over the last 8 weeks, with warnings of dire consequences should they be ignored.  This all led to a heightened sense of anticipation of what was about to be moving through our region during the wee small hours.

Residents in the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council area have seen a number of very large vehicles transiting through the area over the last number of weeks.  These large transporters have been delivering large sections of wind turbines to a site at the Ora More windfarm in Boho.  Travelling at night in order to minimise disruption to local traffic and residents, these vehicles have become something of a local attraction in their own right, with many postings on social media from people fascinated by the logistics and challenges of making these plans come to fruition.

One local photographer has captured a number of still and moving images of this nocturnal activity which have attracted significant levels of interest with local people.

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When fully functioning, this wind farm will produce sufficient electricity to supply somewhere in the region of 13,000 homes.  In the context of our region, this is not an insignificant contribution to the local offering in terms of Renewable Energy.  This development has at least put Renewable Energy activity on the agenda for discussion in the region……………and that can only be a good thing.

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Photographs Courtesy of Mr Roy Crawford, Enniskillen

Ireland rejects 125MW Maighne – Element Power’s 47-turbine plan in Kildare and Meath

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Element Power has been refused permission to build its up to 125MW Maighne wind farm in Ireland.  National planning authority An Bord Pleanala (ABP) has ruled against the developer’s 47-turbine project in Kildare and Meath.

Its officials said allowing permission would be “premature” in the absence of “any national wind energy strategy”.  ABP also said the “widely dispersed cluster-based layout” would have an “inevitable adverse” impact including a “disproportionately large visual envelope”.

Element Power initially lodged the plans in April last year. It had hoped to build turbines with 169 metre tip heights.   ABP also shot down the developer’s proposals for an up to 120MW Emlagh wind farm in Meath earlier this year.

Record wind generation in Scotland

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On Sunday the 7th of August Scotland provided 106% of its electricity needs from wind power for the day. Wind turbines provided 39 545MWh of electricity to the national grid whilst electricity usage from Scotland’s homes, businesses and industry only used 37 202MWh.

Sunday’s weather was not typical, with high winds across the country causing disruption to road, rail and ferry travel. These high winds were however very good for generation of electricity from wind turbines.

Whilst being the first time on record wind power has exceeded daily needs it may have happened before as a monitoring process for the data was only implemented in 2015.

Wind energy success in Scotland has been increasing year on year with turbines providing 123% of electricity needed for Scottish homes in January 2016. In January 2015 wind provided enough electricity for Scottish homes for 22 of the 31 days in the month.

These announcements have been hailed by WWF Scotland’s director Lang Banks, who said in January:

“2015 proved to be a big year for renewables, and the latest data makes clear that 2016 is already off to a flying start, with wind power alone meeting nearly half of Scotland’s total electricity needs during January.  I have little doubt that 2016 will be another record year for renewables.” 

His predictions for a record year are proving to be true.