Netherlands

Netherlands

PORTRAIT OF A COMMUNITY VENTURE

Reliability and looks have proved to be the two most important factors when choosing wind turbines for a co-operative project in Holland. The Zeeuwind Co-operative, an association of private persons, municipalities and companies, has the security of knowing its projects have local acceptance. Public suggestions for changes to the project were incorporated prior to erecting the turbines. The members of the co-operative earn interest on their loans at an annually determined rate, depending on results.

Reliability, not high-tech performance, is the decisive factor when a wind energy co-operative in the Netherlands chooses its technology supplier. "We have to be very careful with the money our members have lent us," says John Springer, co-ordinator of the Zeeuwind Co-operative. "That is why we want a reliable machine -- not a highly advanced prototype that squeezes the last kilowatt hour from every breeze. We want a steady workhorse that runs all the time." The wind turbine has to be good looking, too. "Looks are important if you want to convince the locals of the advantages of wind energy," he adds.

Zeeuwind is located in Goes, on the approach to the Zeeland Bridge. At over five kilometres, the bridge is one of the longest in western Europe. Four Micon 600 turbines from Denmark, slowly making their circles against a sky that could have been painted by a Dutch master. It is the most recent project of the Zeeuwind Co-operative -- an association of private persons, municipalities and companies which even numbers the giant French oil company, Total, among its members. Total has a refinery in Zeeland. Started in 1987 the Zeeuwind Co-operative is the largest of the 20 or so wind co-operatives now established in the Netherlands -- largest both in membership, which touches 2500, and installed capacity, now 2 MW. The co-operative ownership concept is well known in the Netherlands, especially in agriculture. Co-op members put enough cash on the table to create a pool of start-capital large enough to make it worthwhile shopping at the bank for more money. "Getting money from the banks is no problem," says Springer. "The only problem is that some local banks are not able to handle this type of financing." The members of the co-operative earn interest on their loans at a rate which is determined annually, depending on results. The minimum interest paid is the going savings bank rate, plus 1%. Members have voting rights and are entitled to choose the co-operative's governing board. They are also entitled to a share in any profits made by the co-operative's activities -- wind plant operation, for example.

In the case of Zeeuwind, the profits, which amounted last year to NLG 38,000, are ploughed back into the company to increase the co-operative's equity. The minimum investment allowed is NLG 150. Last year, private membership of the Zeeuwind co-operative grew substantially thanks to a special agreement with the building society of the city of Middelburg. Under the agreement, half of the deposit paid to the building society by people renting houses is invested in the Zeeuwind Co-operative. Normally the building society pays a fixed interest on the deposits, which are paid in lieu of possible repairs on the tenant's house once he moves. Under the agreement with Zeeuwind, Middelburg tenants still get their fixed interest. The risk of fluctuating interest rates is taken by the building society, which is also a co-operative undertaking.

The Zeeuwind Co-operative is housed in a former government building in the city of Goes. It shares the building with other "alternative" organisations, one of which, the Zeeland Environment Federation, in many ways gave birth to the wind co-operative. The premises still look alternative, but from the start Zeeuwind has adopted a businesslike approach. "This is necessary if you start expanding as we did," says Springer. The co-operative started on a small scale with a project of three 75 kW Lagerwey turbines in Bath, bordering on the Western Scheldt. A few years later a single 75 kW turbine was erected in Oostburg. The first 250 kW turbine came in 1991 in Goese Sas, followed by two other turbines in West-Kapelle in 1992. At the beginning of this year, the four turbines near the Zeeland Bridge, the most ambitious project to date, came on line.

Choosing suppliers

When Zeeuwind was faced with choosing its first 250 kW turbine, Springer drove his car around the province to check on the performance of the different models operating in the Netherlands. "I wasn't interested in technology. I was interested in reliability," says the former literature teacher. The choice fell, on a stormy night, to a Micon 530 from Denmark, after he saw several of them installed near Vlissingen still running when two trees had been uprooted nearby. "Those trees were a decisive argument," he says.

Not that the co-operative is hooked on just one supplier. For the next project of three 225 kW turbines for the island of Tholen, another Danish company, Vestas, is also in the running. And for the following project -- four 250 kW turbines on the island of Schouwen-Duiveland -- the choice remains wide open. "What is different from five years ago is that there are now quite a few reliable machines on the market. Other criteria will be applied in the choice for a new machine, like service and financing -- and looks," says Springer.

He is convinced that a wind turbine must look good. "It should fit into the landscape. That is the only way you can get the support of the local residents and consequently the municipal authorities." The pleasing aesthetics of a turbine are contributed to by it having a fixed rotor speed, he believes, which is much more peaceful than variable speed. He also comments that most turbine companies don't put sufficient effort into the appearance of a wind turbine.

Bottom-up approach

Springer has a tried and tested formula for gaining local support: "Make an inventory of everybody's' interests, from farmers and companies to people who are afraid that their horizon will be spoilt. Then put a lot of effort into talking with these people. In doing that you must be prepared to change your plans. For instance, our turbines near the Eastern Scheldt might have interfered with the traffic control system, so we decided to move the planned location. Local acceptance, in essence, is no more than doing your homework. It also helps that most municipalities in our province are a member of the co-operative."

The bottom up approach seems much more effective than the top down approach practised by the provincial government and electricity distribution companies. In an agreement with the national government, the provincial governments of the seven most windy provinces committed themselves to selecting sites for a total of 1000 MW of wind power by 2000. The province of Zeeland, charged with installing a quarter of that capacity, selected its sites, but without involving the local councils. It was not a wise move. Building and environment permits for wind turbine construction have become very difficult to obtain. On top of that the local power company, Deltan, is clearly uncertain about wind energy. Private initiatives are necessary, says Springer, to realise at least part of the 250 MW target for the province of Zeeland.

The Zeeuwind Co-operative produced more than 1.7 million kWh in 1993. This year production is expected to increase to 2.9 million kWh thanks to the newly installed turbines. All production is sold to Deltan. Under the original contract with the utility, the co-operative was allowed to deliver 750 kWh per year for every member against the small-user-tariff, NLG 0.19/kWh. A private member was allotted 750 kWh and a five members made up a company. Zeeuwind's only concern was to secure enough members to ensure that all the wind production could be offset against consumption. At first this was done by bolstering the membership status of municipalities -- a town like Goes was awarded 300, 750 kWh shares. The next step was the agreement with the Middelburg building society.

Alas, the very reasonable contract with Deltan came to an end with the four turbines at Zeeland Bridge. The power company did not wish to extend its contract to include this latest project. Instead the utility is offering NLG 0.11/kWh together with a subsidy of NLG 700 per kW of installed capacity. This is not such a good deal, says Springer. On the other hand, the Zeeuwind Co-operative now gets a subsidy of the capital cost of projects which makes them more attractive to banks, although there is no certainty that the NLG 700/kW will also be granted to future projects. The money is drawn from the utility sector's Environmental Action Plan and its funds are not specifically allocated for wind energy.

One important lesson to be learned from the Zeeuwind Co-operative -- the same lesson learned in Denmark where similar co-operatives exist -- is that opposition to wind power is minimal when people are involved in a project from the start. Even if they only have a minute share in a project, investors are far more prepared to be positively inclined towards it. Careful selection of sites and wind turbines which not only function without problem, but are also pleasing to the eye, are important components of a successful wind project.

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