United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Push towards small scale development

A report from the UK, where the government's clear favouring of small scale community wind projects in the bids selected for NFFO 5 contracts is sparking a number of innovative first time initiatives across the country.

Some familiar names together with a sprinkling of newcomers to the wind energy scene were the recipients of contracts in the small-scale wind band of the UK government's fifth round of its Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO-5). NFFO-5 saw the most generous allocation of contracts ever to small projects (of less than 0.995 MW declared net capacity). Moreover, it represents an unprecedentedly high success rate for small-scale project bids: 36 out of 45 bids secured contracts. The number of bids for small schemes was down on previous rounds -- a result, some argue, of disillusionment among small developers due to the high failure rate in the past. But it now appears the government hopes the NFFO-5 results will send a clear signal of its determination to encourage small scale and community developments.

Yet the very nature of the present NFFO system of support for renewables works against the grassroots ideal of community wind power. The uncertainties of getting contracts and planning consent make it unwise for the average householder to go it alone on the path to wind turbine ownership. The most credible route open today is either through a developer led project, subsequently sold to a co-operative or community group, as at Harlock Hill in Cumbria, or through an investment fund like The Wind Fund. Harlock Hill is one of only two community projects in the UK, despite energy minister John Battle's enthusiasm for the principle of community ownership. The lack of local initiatives may yet change, however, if some of the NFFO-5 developers now toying with the "strength in numbers idea" put theory into practice.

The Dale Vince club

One of these is Western Windpower. The company, based in Stroud in Gloucestershire, is investigating the local sale of stakes in its planned projects in Norfolk. Together with Econet, Western Windpower won four contracts in East Anglia -- each for a single 1.5 MW turbine. Western's Dale Vince is considering a Norfolk-wide "wind energy club" with local people investing in several small projects. "It is about empowering local people to get involved in this -- and selling green power at the same time," he says. Western Windpower is exploring the idea with another company, but Vince stresses it is still at the concept stage. Western also won two other contracts in Gloucestershire.

In north Wales, community ownership is one of the stated goals of Declan Pritchard whose company, Anglesey Wind and Energy, won a contract for 1.65 MW on the Lleyn Peninsula that it hopes to develop alongside its NFFO-4 project nearby. Pritchard is thinking of inviting local people to buy shares in a private limited company set up along the lines of the Baywind Co-operative model at Harlock Hill, where local people have so far bought three wind turbines from its developer, The Wind Company. Pritchard sees local ownership as the way forward in making people feel included and in gaining public acceptance. This is in his own interests, he points out, since he has to live in the local community.

Family affairs

Unlike the last NFFO round, several genuinely small first-time developers have walked away with contracts. One such is Oxfordshire farmer Adam Twine. He plans to build two 750 kW turbines from Wind World, a manufacturing arm of Danish NEG Micon, on his mixed dairy and arable farm near Swindon. He already has a local authority resolution to grant planning consent subject to agreeing some conditions. His next step is to arrange financing. He claims to be open to some form of community ownership, but fears the project may be too small to make it worthwhile.

Consultant Peter Crone from Farm Energy helped with seven successful bids. One of his clients is the Fair Wind Company, formed by three hill farming families in north Wales who have teamed up to build three 750 kW wind turbines near Llanrwst, Conwy. The turbines will be sited on their land -- in an area still restricted through radioactivity from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. This means that sheep farmed on the land are not allowed to enter the food chain. The families hope to retain most of the ownership of the wind turbines but this depends on their ability to raise the finance. To this end, they have been actively chasing grants. Crone's other clients are Swingdon Wind Power and the Old Racecourse Windfarm Ltd (both led by farmers), small development company Long Earth Ltd and Three Way Wind -- another development company of which Crone is a director.

The Cambridgeshire Fens could be home to wind energy for the first time if three small wind projects -- each of 2 MW -- go ahead. The clusters of three 750 kW turbines are proposed by a pairing of utility Eastern Electricity and developer Wind Prospect. "We are going to press forward on planning applications fairly quickly," says Eastern Electricity's Bill Richmond. If all goes well, the projects could be up and running by April 2000. The project is Eastern's second venture into wind energy and will contribute to the company's target of generating 10% of its power from renewables by 2010.

Financial bottleneck

Developer Border Wind scooped 36 MW of contracts -- five in the small wind band and two in the large (Windpower Monthly, November 1998). But the small northern England company warns that it can only proceed with its sites "as and when resources allow." Border Wind is still trying to get two NFFO-4 sites over the siting permit hurdle. It hopes that when those are built, finance will be freed to fund work on its NFFO-5 projects.

The size of the small wind band was good news to The Wind Fund, which provides ethical investment opportunities in small-scale wind and hydro projects. The Wind Fund was one of the groups lobbying the Department of Trade and Industry for a small wind band. "We could see a lot of attention from the DTI on offshore wind, but we felt there was very much a need to focus on smaller developments," explains Simon Roberts from The Wind Fund. "We see that as an important part of a diverse wind industry. Just concentrating on large developments is not how we see wind energy flourishing successfully in the UK."

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