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UK energy groups warn subsidy cuts threaten old wind farms

Energy companies have warned that subsidy cuts will prevent them from replacing old wind farms as almost 1,000 turbines approach the end of their lives over the next decade.

Turbines are designed to last 20-25 years, and increasing numbers will reach the end of their serviceable life during the next parliament. According to industry body RenewableUK, the UK has 924 turbines that have been operating since before 2004.

The energy department insists it is committed to making green technologies “stand on their own two feet”, but developers have accused the government of making it economically unviable to improve existing sites.

The industry refers to improvements as “repowering,” but advances in technology mean this often involves completely decommissioning and replacing old turbines, making costs comparable with new developments. Modern wind turbines are more than three times the height and provide 10 times more output than turbines from the mid-1990s.

It was hoped that improving farms in prime locations would be a convenient way to increase energy capacity without building in new areas, but funding uncertainty is making companies reluctant to plan projects without government... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Energy companies have warned that subsidy cuts will prevent them from replacing old wind farms as almost 1,000 turbines approach the end of their lives over the next decade.

Turbines are designed to last 20-25 years, and increasing numbers will reach the end of their serviceable life during the next parliament. According to industry body RenewableUK, the UK has 924 turbines that have been operating since before 2004.

The energy department insists it is committed to making green technologies “stand on their own two feet”, but developers have accused the government of making it economically unviable to improve existing sites.

The industry refers to improvements as “repowering,” but advances in technology mean this often involves completely decommissioning and replacing old turbines, making costs comparable with new developments. Modern wind turbines are more than three times the height and provide 10 times more output than turbines from the mid-1990s.

It was hoped that improving farms in prime locations would be a convenient way to increase energy capacity without building in new areas, but funding uncertainty is making companies reluctant to plan projects without government support.

Since May the government has changed planning laws and cancelled access to the main subsidies for onshore wind, the first steps in a plan to completely phase out renewables subsidies. Rachel Ruffle, projects director for Western Europe at renewables company RES, said recent policy changes would be “fundamental” to decisions about the future of its old assets.

“Repowering,” Ms Ruffle says, “clearly illustrates the need for long-term policymaking to deliver longer term investor confidence. Put simply, if the wind farms that are reaching their lifespans during the 2020s and 2030s are not replaced it will serve to exacerbate the problem of the energy ‘gap’ the UK currently faces.”

Last month, infrastructure group John Laing purchased the biggest repower project in Germany. Ross McArthur, managing director and head of renewable energy, said he expected to see more projects across the EU in the coming years: “It’s a no-brainer; you get more bang for your buck with more energy from fewer turbines. Even from a visual impact point of view, you’re replacing larger numbers with fewer, albeit taller, turbines.”

Fourteen repower projects have been completed or approved in the UK since 2010, but Mr McArthur said the UK market was now “more or less gone”.

RWE Innogy, the renewable arm of Germany’s RWE Group, has planning consent to replace turbines at one site in Wales, but Mike Parker, UK head of onshore wind, says his team might have to cancel further plans.

“We have a site in Cumbria that’s currently 12 turbines, and we have a planning application to turn that into a six-turbine site that delivers three times more output. The decision we’ve got though is, it may be more sensible given the current climate to eke out the life of a 20-plus year-old asset, with technology that’s 20 years out of date,” Mr Parker said.

The Conservative party promised to halt the spread of onshore farms in its election manifesto, arguing that they did not provide stable capacity and often failed to win public support.

According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, 65 per cent of the British public support onshore wind, making it one of the least popular sources of renewable energy, but significantly more popular than nuclear power or shale gas. However, opposition is often concentrated in the rural areas where turbines are placed, many of which are also areas of traditional Conservative support.

DECC said: “Our priority is providing clean, affordable and secure energy that hard-working families and businesses can rely on. We want to protect bill payers, ensuring technologies stand on their own two feet whilst also meeting our renewable energy commitments.”

The government is committed to generating 30 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and says the country has enough onshore projects installed or in the pipeline to meet its targets.

However, Aris Karcanias, managing director at advisory firm FTI Consulting, said it would be difficult to maintain targets after 2020 as old wind farms went offline, a situation that could “raise alarm bells” for the government. “I would be asking: Am I going to be able to keep the lights on while maintaining my decarbonisation goals?”

Asked if renewable generation could fall after 2020, RWE’s Mr Parker said: “It will — it’s not could, it will.”

Doug Parr, chief scientist at environmental campaign group Greenpeace UK, said: “The government should be choosing to back key renewable technologies, like wind and solar, but instead it is slashing its subsidies too fast and too suddenly.”


Source: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/...

NOV 2 2015
http://www.windaction.org/posts/43712-uk-energy-groups-warn-subsidy-cuts-threaten-old-wind-farms
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