For the island of Westray, the answer to its problem of generating income to make the community more self-sustaining was blowing in the wind.
The rush for renewables saw a group of residents draw up plans for a community-owned wind farm which would bring in money for a range of local projects.
They undoubtedly had the natural resource, and soon won the unanimous support of residents and then the backing of Orkney Islands Council.
Two years ago they secured planning permission and an offer of a grid connection. Since then, it has been a vain battle to secure the one missing component – a single wind turbine.
Small-scale, locally-owned renewables schemes were seen as a way for remote and rural communities to take control of the rapidly-expanding wind industry and derive local benefit. But the escalating cost and scarcity of turbines is halting efforts to exploit resources around them.
Increasing demand around the world has led to a shortage of turbines suitable for community projects. Local schemes, which typically need just one to five turbines, are suffering as manufacturers service bigger projects.
Westray is one of four communities in the Highlands and Islands waiting for a tower. Tiree also needs a single turbine, while community-owned estates in North Harris and Melness in Sutherland each need three.
They hope to emulate islanders on Gigha, where three turbines earn £100,000 a year for reinvestment.
The Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company (HICEC) is currently assisting 28 local energy schemes. It is hoping a joint bid by four communities – amounting to only eight turbines – will be more attractive to manufacturers.
David Stephenson, the chairman of Westray Renewable Energy, said a turbine costing about £700,000 could bring in an estimated £3 million-£4 million over 20 years. “We have planning permission, we have an offer of a grid connection, but what we don’t have is a turbine and we can’t even get an offer to supply one. It’s very frustrating.
The turbine would provide the income we need. We could become self-sufficient and would not need to go cap in hand to agencies for help.”
Lorne MacLeod, the chairman of HICEC, said: “Everyone thought getting the money, the planning permission and the grid connection would be the problem. Many communities have got over all these things and now cannot get a turbine, which is bizarre.”
Peter Kruse, spokesman for Vestas, the largest turbine supplier, said: “There is a gap between supply and demand.”
A Scottish Executive spokesman said: “There is a global problem in acquiring wind turbines. We support the efforts by developers to get inward investment to provide more local involvement in wind manufacture and assembly.”
ISLAND’S NICE LITTLE EARNER
SCOTLAND’S first community wind farm was set up on Gigha, in the Inner Hebrides during 2004.
Its three second-hand turbines – known locally as the Dancing Sisters – are linked to the National Grid.
Costing £370,000 to erect, they produce approximately 2.1 gigawatt hours of electricity a year, supplying all the island’s requirements.
Power not used on the island is sold to the National Grid and the profit returned to residents. The turbines generate an estimated £100,000 a year, which is used for community projects such as social housing.
Gigha is held up as a model for other islands, but the second hand turbine market has overheated, like that for new ones, pushing prices up.
By John Ross
6 July 2007
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