United Kingdom

United Kingdom

HUGE INTEREST IN FIRST COMMUNITY WIND FARM, Over 1000 would-be shareholders request prospectus

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Britain's first share issue for a wind project is generating a huge response from citizens wanting a stake in their local wind farm. This is the claim of the developer building the UK's first co-operatively owned wind scheme just a few weeks after the launch of its share offer.

The scheme comprises a cluster of five turbines at Harlock Hill, near Ulverston in Cumbria on open grassland swept by winds off Morecambe Bay. It is being developed by The Wind Company which will eventually sell the project to a co-operative of local people. According to Simon Boxer from The Wind Company, the aim from the start has been to encourage the local community to assume eventual ownership. The approach is modelled on co-operative lines already adopted in Sweden by its parent company -- Vindkompaniet AB.

The future owner of the cluster is the Baywind Energy Co-operative. Its founders and board members come from all walks of life. They include a builder, teacher, research ecologist, farmer and a surgeon, but all are united in their enthusiasm for clean energy. Most of them hail from Ulverston and the nearby village of Pennington. "They have had to be brave to take this step in an area which has had a very vociferous minority campaigning against wind development," says Boxer.

Baywind chose April 26 -- the tenth anniversary of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl -- to launch the share offer. This is a significant date for Cumbrians since the county was one of the areas of Britain most seriously affected by the plume of radiation from the stricken reactor. The offer is being publicised by a 200,000 leaflet drop and local press and radio advertisements. It is open until the end of October. But already the signs are promising for a good uptake, says Boxer. Demand for copies of the prospectus has exceeded 1000 and the phone has scarcely stopped ringing since the launch, he says.

When allocating shares, priority will be given to local people. Boxer describes local as encompassing Cumbria and north Lancashire. "So far it is looking good. There are a lot of people living close to the project who are interested in investing in it. In an area which is not one of the most wealthy in the country we are encouraged to see people prepared to put quite large amounts of money into it." Shares cost £1 each with a minimum purchase of 300. Baywind expects returns of around 7% after tax. However, for many people who are eligible for tax relief under the government's Enterprise Investment Scheme, returns would be a more attractive 8-9% after tax. In addition, under a savings scheme agreed with the national Co-operative Bank would-be investors will be able to save each month towards their shareholding.

Boxer hopes particularly to attract investors who have so far been neutral on the issue of wind development. "One of our aims is to bring into the scheme as wide a range of investors as possible. Obviously we want people who are already supporters of wind energy, but there is a wide number of people who never stop to think about the subject. We hope to bring in some of those and turn them into converts. And that seems to be happening," he adds.

Construction of the five Danish Wind World 500 kW turbines will begin in June and is expected to be completed in October. The Wind Company is to own the wind farm until the co-operative has sufficient funds to buy the turbines. Moreover, Baywind is under no obligation to purchase the machines outright but will be able to take them over individually as money becomes available, Boxer explains. He believes this approach removes one of the barriers in the way of community ownership of wind schemes in Britain. "The big hurdle here is how a community can get the money together to put up turbines in the first place." To break this vicious circle the Wind Company has gone along the route of undertaking all the initial development with its uncertainties combined with high up-front costs that effectively bar local communities from starting up renewable energy projects from scratch. The company secured a NFFO power purchase contract and planning permission and is now obtaining finance to build the project. "It is then a question of selling the turnkey project to the co-operative," he says. "The big moment will be when the co-operative buys its first turbine."

As well as providing a competitive return for the co-operative's members, a separate proportion of the wind turbines' income will be set aside to fund local energy efficiency

measures for neighbouring communities. "The first aim is to promote electricity from wind and the second is to push conservation measures. In that way wind power and energy efficiency can both be seen to be part of the same package," he explains.

With Harlock Hill shaping up to be a success, the Wind Company has high hopes for further co-operative ventures in the UK. Boxer considers that the evidence of communities willing to finance their local wind farm will provide an effective counter to opposition groups like Country Guardian. "So far it has been very hard for supporters of wind energy to show their support. But if you can see that there are thousands of people prepared to put their money into these turbines that will prove categorically these Country Guardians are wrong when they claim the majority of people are against wind energy."

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