County Durham's first wind farm gained instant approval from local planners. The project will be sited on a former coal site. The developers are now hoping to be awarded a power purchase contract under the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation. Small scale but widespread application of renewables seems to be the most popular mode of implementing alternative energy sources for the councils.

Plans for County Durham's first wind farm in north east England received unanimous approval from local planners. "The decision was made in a blink of an eye," says Derwentside Council planning officer Peter Reynolds of the application by utility Northern Electric to install eight turbines at Tow Law.

"Any concerns the councillors may have had were resolved by a visit we organised to Kirkby Moor and Haverigg wind farms in Cumbria. The council has a generally positive attitude to renewable energy, in the right locations," he adds. The turbines are planned for installation on a former open cast coal site in final stages of restoration. The project has been developed for Northern Electric by North Energy Associates. NEA stresses it consulted closely with local groups and the wind farm's neighbours from the earliest days. It believes a separate visit for local people to see the Cumbrian wind farms helped change many minds in favour of the proposal.

Having come through the planning hurdle the project's developers are now waiting to see if the scheme is awarded a power purchase contract under the current round of the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO). If the wind farm goes ahead Northern Electric hopes to involve the local community in shared ownership. NEA's Garry Jenkins says: "Local residents seem really quite keen on some community involvement. It is a way for people to benefit from a development that is essentially going to affect their local environment."

Altener study

Meanwhile first results are emerging from a study by North Energy Associates for Durham County Council to develop a strategy for renewable energy in the county. The study is looking at practical ways the County Council can use renewable energy to help power its operations as well as encouraging other local initiatives. The £47,750 study is funded jointly by the Department of Trade and Industry and the European Union's two-year-old Altener programme. Durham County Council is contributing £17,500 of staff time. Altener is the EU's primary programme for the promotion of renewables and aims to triple their contribution to European electricity supplies by 2005 by financing a variety of market promotion initiatives.

According to Jenkins there is wide scope for using renewables in many areas of the council's work. NEA's study is focusing on how three technologies -- wind, passive solar and biomass -- could be used to power some of the Council's 1000 buildings, ranging from libraries to schools. There are nearly 400 schools in the county. "The electricity bill alone for a large comprehensive typically comes to around £25,000," Jenkins says. A 50 kW wind turbine feeding into a meter could provide useful savings, he believes. The prospects for wind energy applications are promising. Nearly 200 Council owned buildings are sited in areas with wind speeds above 7 m/s although, as Jenkins concedes, some of these are located in towns.

Development of the strategy for renewables follows a planning study of renewable energy in the county, says Mike Walker from the council's environment department. "After seeing the report, members of the council said we should now do something positive to progress renewable energy in the county." He sees renewables providing economic development opportunities as well as reducing costs. "We want to encourage renewable industries to take off in the county."

According to Walker the council prefers small scale but widespread application of renewables. "Small but everywhere is what we are aiming for. We will be looking more at local applications because we want them to be of direct benefit to local communities." One of the aims of the strategy will be to encourage community involvement. "The study is looking at ways in which we could help communities set up wind schemes and assist them in overcoming obstacles such as raising finance," he explains. The council will also urge outside developers to include some degree of community ownership in their schemes.