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Green group in row over wind energy

ONE of Scotland’s top environmental charities has been accused of undermining its own work by launching a scathing attack on wind energy.

The John Muir Trust (JMT) yesterday released a report claiming the Government and energy industry routinely exaggerate the power of wind, and output for much of the past two years was below the official Government figures.

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The industry body Scottish Renewables hit back, accusing researcher Stuart Young of serious discrepancies in his previous work and suggesting the was acting irresponsibly in supporting the report.

Mr Young, an energy consultant and anti-windfarm campaigner, found thousands of instances since 2008 where national output from wind energy dropped below 20 megawatts – barely enough for 6667 kettles to be boiled at once.

Mr Young’s study says wind turbines achieve a far smaller proportion of their capacity than is usually claimed.

Wind power is often said by industry figures to operate at 30% of its capacity. Mr Young’s study found average outputs were significantly lower, averaging 24% over 26 months.

His figures for 2009 were in line with the Scottish Government’s, although in 2008 the Government recorded the 30% output figure criticised in the new report. Mr Young had no figures for this period.

Energy consultant Garrad Hassan, previously commissioned by environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth, had higher figures than Mr Young for months where comparison is possible. In the year to November 2010 it recorded 24.8%, compared to 22% in the new report. Scottish Government figures for the period have not been released.

The John Muir Trust’s head of policy, Helen McDade described the report as “a real eye-opener for anyone who’s been wondering just how much power Scotland is getting from the fleet of wind turbines that have taken over many of our most beautiful mountains and hillsides”.

“The answer appears to be not enough, and much less than is routinely claimed,” she added.

Mr Young, the report’s author and the chairman of the Caithness Windfarm Information Forum – described on its website as “group of people concerned about the proliferation of windfarms in Scotland” – said as well as instances where output dropped to worryingly low levels, there were also widespread instances of output falling because of slow windspeeds as electricity demand peaked.

“Sadly, wind power is not what it’s cracked up to be and cannot contribute greatly to energy security in the UK,” he said.

“We have no confidence in these unofficial figures,” said Jenny Hogan, policy director for Scottish Renewables, the green energy industry body.

Referring to last year’s output, she said: “We recognise this is lower than the 30% average load factor. However, this was anticipated as it had been an exceptionally calm year. No form of electricity works at 100% capacity 100% of the time.”

She added: “It could be argued the trust is acting irresponsibly given their expertise lies in protecting our wild lands and yet they seem to be going to great lengths to undermine renewable energy which is widely recognised as one of the biggest solutions to tackling climate change.”

Ms McDade said the report concerns only large-scale windfarms and makes no mention of other renewables.

A Scottish Government spokesman said in 2009, renewables met more than 27% of Scottish electricity use. He added: “Wind power, alongside other forms of onshore and offshore renewables, cuts emissions and contributes to greater security of supply.”

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