Generating a cash stream for locals

Generating a cash stream for locals
Laurence Demarco
Regeneration & Renewal

Last year I drove through Tarifa on the southern tip of Spain and up the west coast to Cadiz past thousands of wind turbines. The idea of ‘farming’ something as elemental as the wind has always seemed thrilling to me. My encounter with fields of these giants confirmed my enthusiasm.

I stopped to watch whole hillsides dancing in the breeze.

The Scottish government is currently considering plans to build a large-scale installation on the island of Lewis, which alone would supply 20 per cent of Scotland’s electricity. What took us so long?

In Scotland’s Highland region a creative link has been made between small-scale wind power and people power by helping communities to develop income-generating renewable energy projects. Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company (HICEC) was created specifically for this purpose and its chief executive, Nicolas Gubbins, sketched the numbers for me. ‘We consider the best size of turbine for these one-off community projects is around one megawatt,’ he said. ‘The pre-construction costs, including planning and legal fees, could be around £100,000 and the actual construction around £1 million. In the early days, investors, including banks, kept away from community projects, but now they are keen. HICEC can take equity up to £250,000 which the community can buy back as it wishes. On a ten-year loan, such a package can generate a net surplus of £100,000 a year, including maintenance.’

It’s difficult to overstate how important an independent income stream is to communities struggling for sustainability. It changes the balance of power and galvanises local energy. In its first year HICEC has doubled its target for this type of project and is currently assisting around 20 communities on the path to income generation. This is a movement gathering strength, with great economic, environmental and social rewards for communities that grasp the opportunity.

The UK’s first community-owned and grid-connected wind farm is on Gigha.

After buying their island, the locals took delivery of three 225-kilowatt turbines which contribute £100,000 annually to the island’s revitalised economy. The islanders have named their turbines Faith, Hope and Charity (in Gaelic), and from afar they are known as the Dancing Ladies of Gigha.

May the Dancing Ladies come to symbolise sustainable communities all across the land.