The UK's onshore wind energy industry is facing a crackdown on the practice of de-rating turbine sizes to qualify for more favourable Government subsidies.
Energy Minister John Hayes has reacted to MPs' fears that some wind farm operators have deliberately run large wind turbines at sub-optimal levels in order to qualify for the higher subsidy available through the Feed-in Tariff scheme.
And in a written answer to Labour and Conservative MPs, Mr Hayes said DECC has been made aware that a “very small number” of manufacturers have started to sell turbines which have been de-rated to allow them to benefit from the higher cash pay-outs.
In his Parliamentary written answer this week, Mr Hayes added: “To date, only 32 turbines have been installed in the relevant band, representing just 0.009% of installations supported by FITs.
“My officials have met and discussed this issue with wind turbine manufacturers and RenewableUK as part of the recent comprehensive review of the FITs scheme.
“DECC takes the issue of turbine de-rating seriously. We have acted to address a similar issue for hydro sites and are committed to doing the same for wind.”
The exact number of de-rated turbines is unknown but trade association RenewableUK said it approached the Government about the issue to “safeguard transparency”.
Maf Smith, Deputy Chief Executive of RenewableUK, said: “We want to ensure best practice is adhered to at all times as a matter of priority. Since the Feed-in-tariff scheme was introduced in 2010, we have been working with the Department of Energy and Climate Change to make sure that it operates as smoothly as possible, to encourage small businesses and individuals to generate clean energy.
“As issues have arisen, we have made our views clear to DECC, recommending improvements to ensure that the system is fair.
“In order to safeguard transparency, we alerted DECC some time ago to a very limited number of cases in which turbines appeared be limiting their power output to match certain tariffs. We will continue to work closely with DECC to ensure that clear guidance is provided on this issue. Our overriding priority is to ensure that the system is robust so that wind energy offers the best value for money to all of us, as we are all energy consumers.
“To put the scale of this issue into proportion, DECC’s latest figures (September 2012) show that so far, 29 small developments (comprising 1 or 2 turbines) out of a total of nearly 400,000 installations under FiTs, have been registered to receive the Feed-in Tariff in the band in question here (100-500kw).
“Although this is a small number, and most of them are in fact already complying with best practice, it’s still important to ensure that everyone is playing by the rules. By way of comparison, 24 schemes have been registered in the band above (500kw-1.5MW) which qualifies for a lower rate of financial support. Wind makes up only 0.8% of all FiT installations. DECC states that the total cost of FiTs for non-solar technologies (wind, hydro and anaerobic digestion) was £300,000 in 2011.”
RenewableUK pointed out that larger wind turbines are unaffected by this issue, as they received financial support under the separate Renewables Obligation scheme, and not the Feed-in Tariff.