Scotland’s energy minister has defended windfarms and other “green energy” schemes, claiming the cost of subsidies adds only £1.25 to monthly domestic electricity bills.
Amid fury over escalating power bills, Fergus Ewing has also defended SNP policy in the face of increasing public concern about the true economic and environmental cost of building giant turbines across vast areas of Scottish countryside.
He said the cost of the subsidies was “small” compared with general price rises imposed by electricity firms.
He dismissed a forecast by energy industry researchers that subsidies to windfarms would ultimately destroy more jobs than they create.
The payment system of Renewables Obligation Certificates currently costs UK consumers around £1.1billion a year.
Based on Department of Energy and Climate Change estimates, the Renewable Energy Foundation charity calculates that the sum will rise to around £8billion by 2020.
It says half the current cost is invested specifically in wind projects and that the sector’s share of the cake will likely increase to almost 75% within a decade.
REF director John Constable said the UK Government’s climate change committee has forecast that green policies will add around £100 a year to the average domestic electricity bill by 2020.
Mr Ewing said that onshore wind now generates more “green” electricity than Scotland’s hydro stations.
Extensive independent research covering a two-year period of its National Grid data, for a report published this year by the John Muir Trust conservation charity, showed that half the time onshore windfarms produced less than 20% of their capacity – and on an average of one day a month feed virtually nothing to the grid.
Mr Ewing said: “We have significant onshore wind resources. Onshore wind now generates more of our green electricity than our hydro stations.
“Windfarms, through their highs and lows, produced a huge amount of electricity in 2009 – 11% of Scottish electricity demand. Electricity from renewables met 27.4% of Scotland’s electricity use in 2009. The wind continues to blow, creating jobs, cutting emissions and helping Scotland secure its place as the green energy powerhouse of Europe.”
As for the financial cost, he said: “The renewables obligation is likely to add around £15 to consumers’ annual bills in Scotland.
“While every increase matters, the cost is small in comparison with what recent price hikes are adding to energy bills where extremely volatile wholesale energy prices are largely driven by the dominance of fossil fuels in the energy mix.”
Acknowledging polar divisions within public opinion about windfarms, Mr Ewing said he wanted to see a planning process that is “open, clear and as transparent as possible, with industry delivering the highest standards of information”.
Denise Davis from Kiltarlity, who opposes the Druim Ba windfarm on her doorstep, has urged Mr Ewing as a local MSP to be “more sympathetic” to Highland opponents than his predecessor Jim Mather, who represented a constituency many miles away.
Mr Ewing said: “Proposals are subject to the fullest possible consultation involving a wide range of stakeholders and to which all parties including members of the public with an interest can contribute.”
The minister said Scotland needed more renewables, “but not at any price”.