When Andrew King decided to sink £2,000 of his own money into the proposition that an empty field in south Cumbria could be turned into a wind farm, he had no idea that 10 years later he would be leading a people-power revolution to bring the benefits of wind energy to local communities.
King and his wife thought hard before taking up a Swedish firm’s proposal to transplant the Scandinavian model of community-owned wind initiatives to Britain with an installation near Ulverston. ‘It seemed a bit of a risk at the time. It was just an empty field and we didn’t know if we would get our money back,’ he says. ‘But my wife and I believe the UK is extraordinarily backwards in getting communities involved in the fundamentals in life, like power and water. This seemed a means by which one could support renewable energy and encourage local buy-in – both literally and metaphorically.’
The 1,300 investors, 43 per cent from Lancashire and Cumbria, who did buy in to the Baywind Renewable Energy Co-operative, with investments of between £300 and £20,000 each, have enjoyed a fair wind. The co-operative returned 9 per cent gross last year, including 20 per cent tax relief from the government’s Energy Investment Scheme.
King has become chairman of Energy4All, the increasingly successful company Baywind set up four years ago to promote community wind farms across the UK. In August, a share offering to invest in several turbines in Aberdeenshire raised £750,000, while another in Lincolnshire looking for £4m is expected to launch by the end of this year.
But neither project will be fully community owned, unlike the Westmill Wind Farm Co-operative in Oxfordshire, which raised £4m from 2,000 investors earlier this year to build five 1.3MW turbines.
Adam Twine, a 45-year-old organic farmer who spent 15 years fighting a planning battle to develop a wind installation on his 500-acre farm in Watchfield, says he was ‘blown away’ by the response of investors (or members, as they now are), half of whom live within a 15-mile radius of the site. ‘The strength of the response was a reflection of the goodwill towards a project like this and what it represents,’ he says. ‘It’s a real validation of what we’re trying to do.’
Unfortunately, supply problems mean the co-op will now have to wait until 2008 to see ground broken on what he says has been a ‘rollercoaster project’.
Twine says he embarked on the ‘pipe dream’ of opening a community wind farm after visiting Denmark, where inhabitants of small villages take out second mortgages to invest in local power projects. ‘They have the confidence to remortgage their homes; they know it works and that they’ll get their money back,’ he says. ‘My dream would be that, come 20 years’ time in this country, every little town would be able to have one if they wanted.’
Would it were that simple, says King. In setting up Energy4All, he says, ‘we had the ambition of creating Baywinds all over the UK. But given the situation of a difficult planning regime and the serious shortage of risk capital to get community projects through it – £150,000 per project on average – with few exceptions, it’s just not feasible.’
Twine took a loan out on his farm in order to take his fight to the high court. In Devon, a farming couple are engaged in a David and Goliath planning battle to erect a pair of turbines (see box). But such individuals are rare, says King. ‘We realised the only way a community would get involved was by taking stakes in commercial projects.’
In Scotland, Energy4All has done a deal with Italian renewables group Falck to offer community involvement in seven wind projects in the Highlands and Islands. The first of these – seven 2MW turbines at Boyndie airfield – gives 700 investors a stake in the income stream. ‘It’s extremely local,’ says King. ‘There was no publicity outside Aberdeenshire. We’re trying to create something where local people [feel] it’s their co-op.’
In Lincolnshire, the Fenland Green Power Co-operative will be looking to raise £4m to buy two units of an eight-turbine wind farm being developed by Wind Prospect. In fact, the two turbines are already whirling away, on the 400-acre farm of Nicholas Watts, who has taken a couple of thousand of people on tractor rides to see them since they were installed in August.
So why, having invested considerable time and money developing a wind farm, would a company want to sell a quarter of it to community investors?
Richard Barker of Wind Prospect says schemes often meet stiff resistance, so being able to demonstrate to the authorities that local communities can benefit financially is no bad thing. ‘The more people you get involved – the more people who see that wind energy does work – the better,’ he says. ‘As each community wind farm gets up and running, that message will spread.’
Sparks Fly in Devon
A pair of Devon farmers will next week face off against a suited army of barristers, anti-wind-farm activists, conservation groups and expert witnesses as their dream to create a community-owned wind farm on the fringes of Dartmoor goes to appeal.
Carol and Mark Bradford, who want to put up two 70-metre-high turbines as a way of earning income after their cattle herd was devastated by foot and mouth disease, have no consultants in their corner. But they say they have ‘overwhelming’ support among the 700 residents of Lamerton, near Tavistock, where they have lived all their lives – helped by the fact that local people in the depressed area will be given first priority for buying shares in the co-op.
‘We have support from proper local people, not DFLs [‘Down From Londons’],’ says Carol.
The Bradfords say only one of their turbines will be visible from a 1.5 sq km patch of Dartmoor, but they have been lumped in with proposals for two much larger commercial projects near the national park, which have drawn the ire of anti-wind campaigners, including Noel Edmonds, who lives in west Devon.
Jonathan Cardale of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, the main objector to the Lamerton scheme, says the wind turbines are ‘industrial-sized contraptions’ that would be just as intrusive on the moor as the larger commercial schemes proposed near Okehampton.
He also raises the spectre of ‘scores’ of wind turbines circling the park if any of the three projects wins planning permission: ‘If they get through there will be more [planning] applications, particularly on the northern edge of the moor,’ he says.’ It will spoil the whole setting of Dartmoor and gradually affect the tourism that has been built up with a lot of toil and sweat since foot and mouth.’
By Terry Slavin
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