X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week. If you receive it, you’ll also find your subscriber number at the top of our weekly highlights email.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050. If you’ve only just subscribed, you may not yet have been issued with a subscriber number. In this case you can use the temporary web ID number, included in your email order confirmation.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

If you have any difficulties creating an account or logging in please take a look at our FAQs page.

Features

The great British wind scam

Your taxes are meant to be supporting smaller turbines. In fact, they’re making giant ones less efficient

24 November 2012

9:00 AM

24 November 2012

9:00 AM

Almost everybody agrees that wind turbines are ugly and inefficient. But you’d think that the government, if it must persist in subsidising renewable energy, would do everything it could to incentivise wind power producers to create as much energy as possible while keeping the aesthetic damage to a minimum. Astonishingly, it is doing the opposite.

Inquiries by The Spectator have revealed a scam known as ‘de-rating’. Green businesses are modifying large turbines to make them less productive, because perverse government subsidies reward machines that produce less energy at nearly double the rate of more efficient ones. It’s extraordinarily profitable for a few beneficiaries, even if it clutters the countryside and does little to save the planet.

Under the government’s Feed-In Tariff (FIT) scheme, which aims to make renewable energies competitive with fossil fuels, the size of a turbine is measured not by height but by power output. If a turbine pumps out more than 500kW, its owners receive 9.5p per kilowatt hour. But a ‘smaller’ sub-500kW one receives a subsidy of 17.5p per kilowatt hour, supposedly to compensate for its lower efficiency. The idea is to lure smaller wind-power producers into the market.

Problem is, while smaller turbines are more popular with the public, those designs don’t produce anything like the 500kW needed to take full advantage of the subsidy. So instead, investors are buying big, powerful turbines and downgrading them, tweaking their components to churn out no more than the magic 500kW. It’s simply far more lucrative to hobble bigger turbines — machines that ought to be capable of producing almost twice as much electricity.

[Alt-Text]


For instance, it would cost a farmer roughly £1.5 million to plan, buy and put up a single 80-metre turbine, which could produce up to 900kW. He could run it at full capacity, and see a 7 to 10 per cent return on his investment each year. But if the machine’s efficiency were lowered, industry sources suggest, the return would jump to between 17 and 20 per cent. Clearly, the under-500kW subsidy bracket is where the money is. Last year, Ofgem reported a 850 per cent rise in FIT approvals for 100 to 500kW turbines, compared with 56 per cent for the 500kW to 1.5mW category.

Turbine suppliers boast about selling products that take advantage. The German firm PowerWind says on its website that it has developed its PowerWind 500 turbines ‘especially for the UK market’ and encourages potential customers to ‘secure the highest FIT in Europe’. In other words: turbines designed especially to game British subsidies.

Or take EWT, a Dutch manufacturer of wind turbines. Its website lists the giant DW 52/54 turbine — as tall as seven double-decker buses — in two forms, one producing 500kW and the other 900kW. Why such a difference in power output, if the specifications suggest they’re the same machine? A sales representative from EWT explains that it offers the less-productive model because ‘the tariff is very, very advantageous’. So why buy the less efficient model, when it has the same environmental footprint? Because ‘you have a better return on investment… you get more money per kilowatt’. The EWT salesman conceded the British system is ‘very very strange’. It’s all about the subsidy, not the environment.

Neither company could be contacted for comment.

One would imagine the government would be appalled at an abuse so widespread that turbine companies advertise specially crocked machines. In a recent report, the Department for Energy and Climate Change said it is fully aware of the loophole. But closing it would not ‘necessarily bring net benefits and could potentially limit access to the scheme’. They have renewable energy -targets to meet — and closing the scam down would see the number of turbines installed reduced. And if the same amount of energy could be produced by half as many turbines? They’re not interested. Not even the department, it seems, cares about the environment.

In the next few days, the Department for Energy will lower Feed-In Tariff rewards for all wind turbines. But it refuses to do anything about ‘de-rating’. It’s already depressing to see a massive turbine scar the countryside. It’s worse when you know these some of these machines are far larger and less productive than they should be. If George Osborne is looking for extra cuts ahead of his mini-budget next month, he may find inspiration as he looks out of his window on the journey to Dorneywood.

Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.


Show comments
Close