HUGE wind turbines are being downgraded with less powerful generators so developers can profit more from government subsidies, a North Devon energy consultant claims.
Dr Phil Bratby says the move shows developers are more interested in making money than harnessing renewable energy.
He says companies are putting up turbines that would be capable of carrying big generators creating large amounts of power.
But because of the way the government subsidies work they are deliberately fitting a smaller generator than would be expected.
It means the turbines don’t generate as much electricity as they could – but do generate more money.
Retired physicist Dr Bratby, who lives near Knowstone, says developers are tied into erecting the large turbines because they have already built them.
He has given evidence about the inefficiency of turbines at six public inquiries.
He said it was the subsidy system which encouraged developers to cash in on this growing trend.
He said: “The government has weighted the subsidy levels so small landowners and farmers get the best deal.
“It encourages them to erect some of the smaller turbine models – with the smaller energy output – by getting generous pay outs.
“Because of how the subsidies are ranked, developers have realised generating less energy is more profitable for them.”
Mr Bratby added: “I am aware of several cowboy developers who are lying about their proposed turbine in order to get the maximum subsidy for producing the minimum electricity.
“It is the poorest members of our society, those in fuel poverty, who are suffering most from this. The government doesn’t seem willing to put a stop to it.”
It is not just Mr Bratby who is concerned about the move.
Penny Mills, chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England Torridge branch, said: “We have pointed out this issue of down-rated turbines to all the local planning authorities – to North Devon,
West Devon and Torridge.
“It is becoming clear the whole purpose of these large turbines is to make money and is nothing whatsoever to do with reducing emissions.
“Developers want to get the maximum subsidy whilst producing the minimum electricity.
“Yet because the machines are oversized there is the maximum impact to the countryside and landscape. It’s just not acceptable.”
But the claims have been denied by Marlies Koutstaal, from turbine development company Infinergy.
She said it would be difficult for this to happen because the energy industry was regulated by the gas and electricity watchdog Ofgem.
She said: “The turbines we have must be regulated by Ofgem. We also look at each site to see what sort of turbine would be suitable.
“We look at the land and see what dimensions would be best, based on information we have at that particular moment.
“Circumstances change all the time and we have to adapt with that.
“For instance the application we have submitted to Torridge District Council for a turbine at Alscott Farm (in Shebbear) we considered two different types.
“Technical constraints of the landscape and telecom links mean we often have to adapt the application.
“The turbine capacity is for us the most important part which needs to fit the site, but we obviously want to maximise the power output at each site as well.”
North Devon MP Nick Harvey, said he will be writing to the planning minister as well as the Department of Energy and Climate Change to make his concerns known.
He said: “I want to ensure that all the relevant people in government are alerted to this scam.”
Mr Harvey wrote to the Planning Inspectorate in September.
He has been further concerned that planning inspectors are continuing to approve turbines which will be down-rated.
He said: “It is quite interesting and shows that we have a bigger problem on our hands then I first thought.
“If these developers put applications in, trying to get their hands on the bigger money, how does anyone know what they are really doing?”
DEVELOPERS can earn up to four times more in subsidies by downgrading the generators of turbines.
The current subsidies, valid until April 2013, show a small 1.5kw turbine can earn £21 per kilowatt hour.
But a larger turbine which generates 1.5MW will earn just £4.48 per kilowatt hour.
Energy consultant Phil Bratby said although turbine generators do vary in relation to the turbines height these dimensions are commonly found together:
25m to blade tip – 11kW power output
35-45m to blade tip – 50kW power output
40-50m to blade tip – 100kW power output
60-70m to blade tip – 330kW power output
70-80m to blade tip – 500 to 800kW power output
100-150m to blade tip – 2 to 3MW power output
These dimensions are usually put together to maximise the amount of power generated with the taller turbines having more ability to harness more wind which the large generators can then convert.
Mr Bratby said the most common downgrade he has seen has been for 900kw generators to be downgraded to 500kw.