Monday, 19 September 2011

Whose wind is it anyway?

An article in the Daily Mail online today highlights what this post is about - foreign ownership of wind farms. I have had this in my draft queue for a couple of weeks now, but since I have been pipped at the post in terms of publication, I guess now is as good a time as any to post this.

In the process of justifying regional and national energy policies, security of supply is often touted as both desirable and necessary by the smiling politicians. It is worth noting immediately that wind cannot be regarded as a secure source of energy - we don't control when it blows so electricity generated from it cannot be planned for with a high degree of accuracy. Another part of the energy security equation is who controls the infrastructure and this is where things get quite interesting. Phrases similar to 'we need to ensure that we don't get held to ransom with regard to our energy supplies' are quite commonplace. Looking at the first page of the Draft Electricity Generation Policy Statement 2010, the following statement is made: Our commitment to emissions reduction is also matched by our commitment to ensure that Scotland continues to have a secure energy supply throughout the transition to low carbon energy....

The key phrase here is 'Scotland continues to have a secure energy supply'. Now, I'm not going to comment on the security of our current supply; I'll assume it is secure. But, as Scotland transitions to decarbonising its electricity supply by 2030, onshore wind farms are expected to play a larger and larger role. So who does, or will ultimately control the wind farm infrastructure that we see springing up around us? Perhaps this will shed some light on that question with regard to the built or approved developments:

NameTurbinesOperatorController
Hadyard Hill52SSESSE
Artfield Fell15SSESSE
Artfield Fell Extension7SSESSE
Mark Hill28Scottish Power RenewablesIberdrola
Arecleoch60Scottish Power RenewablesIberdrola
North Rhins11AES Wind Generation LtdAES

The operational & approved wind farms look 'quite promising' in terms of ownership - no Saltires I'm afraid, but there are at least a few Union Jacks. Foreign ownership outweighs UK ownership in terms of number of turbines: 97 against 74. How about we complete the picture, and draw up a similar table for those wind farms that are currently being planned and are plotted on my map:

NameTurbinesOperatorController
Kilgallioch132Scottish Power RenewablesIberdrola
Dersalloch23Scottish Power RenewablesIberdrola
Glenapp & Loch Ree36Scottish Power RenewablesIberdrola
Beaker Hill16
Straid16ecotricityecotricity
Assel Valley17Coriolis LLPFALCK Renewables
Tralorg Hill8PNE WIND UKPNE Wind AG
Hill of Ochiltree10EonEon
Glenchamber11RESRES

Controlling ownership of Breaker Hill is difficult to unravel. It is a proposed development by a compnay called Alpha Wind Prospect Limited, which itself is a joint venture between Wind Prospect Developments Ltd and Alpha Wind. Now, Alpha Wind doesn't seem to exist as a company. However, Wind Prospect Developments Ltd is itself a joint venture between EDF (which is French) and Wind Prospect Group Ltd. Unfortunately, because we don't know what percentage holding Alpha Wind and Wind Prospect Development Ltd each have, we don't know who has the controlling interest. Oh, what a tangled web we weave! I haven't obtained a copy of the accounts for Wind Prospect Developments Ltd, which should give the percentage holding, so for now Breaker Hill will be left out of the bigger equation.

Here's how this all totals up for a 'worst case scenario' (ie, assuming everything on my map gets built, excluding Breaker Hill for the previously mentioned reason):


CountryTurbinesCapacity
(MW)
Windfarms
Spain279 (63%)837 (73%)5 (36%)
UK115 (26%)195 (17%)5 (36%)
Germany18 (4%)46 (4%)2 (14%)
Italy17 (3%)40 (3%)1 (7%)
USA11 (2%)22 (2%)1 (7%)

By every simple measure bar one, Spain has by far the biggest 'share' of ownership of the wind farm infrastructure plotted on my map - in the worst case scenario. The UK will control very little (17% of installed capacity, and 26% of the turbines by number). Now, I accept these figures will change in absolute terms - and by a small amount in percentage terms as well. However, what I do not expect to see change much is the spanish slice of installed capacity, since Scottish Power Renewables have the biggest projects and the biggest turbines. It will still be interesting to see how this develops over time.

Why is this important? Well, what guarantees exist to ensure that these wind farms do not just become assets to be bought and sold on the open market, perhaps on the foreign markets of the controlling companies? And a closing question for you: How is the ownership distribution of wind farms demonstrated in the preceding paragraphs in any way securing Scotland's future energy supply? It seems the Scottish Government is quite content to mortgage vast tracts of the Scottish landscape for next 30 or so years to anyone who cares to take up the offer, in its desperate rush to see its ever changing renewable energy targets met.