Wind power is the most available and economically viable source of renewable electricity in the UK. It will play a big role in delivering on our targets to achieve 15% of our energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. Government National Policy on Energy states:
“Onshore wind is the most well-established and currently the most economically viable source of renewable electricity available for future large-scale deployment in the UK. As part of the UK’s need to diversify and decarbonise electricity generation, the Government is committed to increasing dramatically the amount of renewable generation capacity. In the short to medium term, much of this new capacity is likely to be onshore and offshore wind.” (1)
The SQW consultancy Cumbria Renewable Energy report concludes that continued development of commercial wind is likely to be required in order to meet required targets.
Onshore wind turbine proposals have sometimes become costly, protracted and are often contentious affairs. Too often the debate becomes polarised between developers and anti-wind campaigners. It is a debate guaranteed to produce a logjam. Without the right to own the scheme, or have first use of the energy they generate, communities invariably get drawn into fending off ‘land grabs’ rather than becoming providers of their own energy security. This debate can be changed by setting community ownership as a precondition of development.
National opinion polls show around 49% of people would support a wind turbine being erected within two miles of their home, with 22% against. But if the project were community-owned, support rises to 68% and opposition plummets to 7%. In Germany opposition to wind farms is much rarer than in UK.(2)
Clearly, community ownership can help build local support for planning applications for onshore wind as well as other renewable projects – which will be crucial if the technology is ever going to gain a real foothold in the UK.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change tends to think of community energy as only small-scale. Cumbrian-based environment and sustainability consultant, Rebecca Willis, has compiled a list(3) of of larger community-owned energy projects at around 5MW or more – quite a significant scale. In fact most of these involve onshore wind. The list shows that there is ambition and appetite for community ownership. A quick tally shows there’s already around 35MW in operation, and a further 170MW being considered.(4) Separate research by Camco and Baker Tilly shows there could be 3.5GW of community-owned renewables, if they have access to finance.(5) Willis says Community Energy Scotland thinks this estimate is too low.
In Cumbria Baywind Energy Co-operative Ltd was launched in 1996. The first two Baywind projects enabled a community in Cumbria to invest in local wind turbines. The original board of directors included 7 members of the community from Ulverston and Barrow. Baywind’s aim is to promote the generation of renewable energy and energy conservation. To date, members have received a competitive return on their investment from the sale of electricity. In 2002 the Baywind membership enthusiastically supported the creation of Energy4All to help other communities achieve the same as Baywind.
Cumbrian community organisations and local authorities should launch a study with Energy4All to investigate the feasibility of further community-owned wind projects in the County.
- Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy (EN-1) Department of Energy and Climate Change, July 2011
- Guardian 29th Oct 2012
- Large-scale community renewable energy schemes, list compiled by Rebecca Willis, 23rd April 2013
- Are community schemes just small and cuddly or can we roll out the megawatts? by Rebecca Willis, 26th April 2013
- The potential for the GIB to support community renewables, by Camco and Baker Tilly, Co-operative Group, December 2011