A plan to create a new community-owned wind farm on Lewis to benefit communities in the Stornoway Trust Estate area is taking form.
Eighteen community groups – including Community Councils, Grazings Committees and Residents Associations across the Trust area – have signed up to become part of a consortium to drive forward a project to build seven turbines on the Arnish moor, half way between Stornoway and Leurbost.
Profits from the turbines would be shared out amongst the consortium, however there may also be scope for a certain amount of the funds for other groups, who were not able to become part of the initial group of 18.
It is anticipated that £91 million could be reinvested into community projects over the 20 plus years lifetime of the project. If no profits are taken within the first ten years – to pay back the wind farm loan as fast as possible – then it is estimated there could be as much as £4.5 million shared out annually from then on.
Leading the project on is Community Energy Scotland (CES) and the idea is also being encouraged by the Stornoway Trust.
NEEDS SUBSEA CABLE
But, the whole initiative does depend on the building of a subsea cable between Lewis and the mainland which can transport energy created in the Islands to the national grid, without this vital infrastructure, no new turbines can be built on the island.
The idea for the consortium developed because a number of local groups would not be able to take their own turbine plans forward due to costs or suitable sites. By working together in a joint wind energy scheme they would have a much greater chance of success.
Legal work is being undertaken to form the 18 groups into a body with shareholders, who can then go forward to seek out potential lenders for the construction works, given this, a full list of the groups involved is currently unavailable.
A feasibility study has been conducted and has reported on the most suitable turbine layout for the site with the dimensions of the turbines being 150 metres tall to produce 4.8MW each.
Funding for the feasibility exercise was supported by the Scottish Government’s CARES fund to the tune of £4,586 ex vat; the bird study which cost just under £30,000 (ongoing) was funded by the Western Isles Development Trust (WIDT) and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES) funded CES by £5,000 to facilitate the project.
However, due to the project being at such an early stage further details from the feasibility study are currently unavailable.
Potential options to finance the seven-turbine scheme include a bank loan and a share offer for the capital finance.
PROJECT IS IN SUPPORT OF COMMUNITY ENERGY
Talking about the project and its current status Kathleen Macdonald of CES, said: “The concept behind this project is one which would ensure that community energy is supported and developed through community groups coming together to explore an innovative and ground-breaking solution of scale.
“The project is still at an early stage and there are still significant issues or uncertainties which will be faced, including questions around the interconnector or further CfD auction rounds.
“However, we are also exploring the potential importance of this project for any future localised energy systems – particularity as the significant drive to decarbonise our energy systems increases leading to more demand for renewable energy.”
There has been some criticism emerging this week about how the project has been promoted to the local community, which groups have been allowed to join the consortium and how the money generated from the turbines will be shared.
In our letters page this week (see full letter on page 15), Stornoway resident, John Morrison highlighted: “The project is quoted to deliver £4.5m of annual profit after year 10 of operation, with 18 groups in the Stornoway Trust area understood to have signed up to the project.
“Every one of these groups will receive a projected £250,000 per annum share each year after year 10 of the project’s operation.
“A deadline of notes of interest to be part of the project had to be intimated by June 30 last year and each group had to be properly constituted by the end of 2019.
“It is also understood that any groups who had not noted an interest before June 30, 2019 could not be included in the project after this date. This, at present, would appear to be a fait accompli.
“The only reference that I can find to this proposed project on the Stornoway Trust website is a single sentence comment, titled Community wind farm consortium from their Trust meeting report dated August 26, 2019.
“This project unfortunately appears very much to have gone under the radar.”
He added: “This is, in my opinion, a totally ludicrous situation, where one community/village would get a potentially sizeable income stream after year 10 of operation, when the vast majority of the other residents, including the largest community and population of Stornoway, would get no, or limited financial benefit.”
“Any financial windfall from this proposed project should go into a central managed pot. Then all the communities within the Stornoway Trust estate area and beyond would have access to any required community funding from this centralised pot.”
In regards to how the project was promoted to interested groups, Kathleen Macdonald from CES, explained: “Every common grazings and community council were informed of this project, as was every Councillor in the Stornoway Trust area, who were asked to promote the scheme.
“Groups were given three and half months to express an interest, followed by a further six months to become constituted.
“The working group needed a deadline on applications in order to commence the legal process of setting up the company (with the knowledge of who the shareholders would be).
“This work is funded and therefore needed to be completed within funding deadlines.
“The project is unable to apply for any further funding until this new company is formed, which was another reason why the three and a half months followed by a further six month deadlines were put in place.”
Talking about how future profits will be shared, Kathleen highlighted: “This is something which the consortium have asked their legal representatives to include in the setting up of the new company.
“This work is in the process of being completed and mechanisms for distributing funding explored. This is a community project which we hope will benefit our local area and its people.”
WHO CAN JOIN CONSORTIUM
It was pointed out that the Stornoway Trust had stipulated that only groups in its estate area could join the consortium.
The Gazette directly asked the Stornoway Trust about that stipulation, however in a statement the Trust concentrated on its recent legal battle with four local townships over the development of their wind turbine schemes.
The Trust’s statement detailed: “The Trust and Lewis Wind Power cooperated with the then Directors of PSDT (Point and Sandwick Development Trust) to help facilitate the Beinn Ghrideag Project.
“In return for the land required being removed from the Stornoway Wind Farm lease area, PSDT’s promise of assisting in the promotion of the larger development was not forthcoming. “Past evidence shows that it was a promise that those involved have repeatedly reneged on since that time.
“The Trust, in its attempt to deliver a windfarm development designed to be of benefit to the wider community, is now having to incur legal costs to defend the actions of four townships, whose pursuit of proposed schemes, which they claim, to be deliverable under the 50B provision of the Crofting Act, serve only to undermine what the Trust is aiming to achieve.
“Rather than adding to the generation capacity our Island resource can deliver these schemes can only succeed if they deprive the Stornoway Wind Farm of generation already consented and ready to be progressed once the Land Court can be satisfied that the deals on offer to the crofters have been fairly secured by the Trust on their behalf.
“That process has also been put on hold by the 50B applications.
“The quest to remove additional land to allow those who have clearly aligned themselves with PSDT is one that the Trust is not prepared to consider in light of how LWP’s supportive stance has been used to their disadvantage, but hopefully not to their detriment, as they continue to work with both the Trust and the Comhairle to unlock our Island energy resource for the greater good.”