The community of Cove on the Rosneath peninsula in Lomond was facing a situation of decline, with little affordable housing; no sheltered housing; a threat to close its school; no modern play area; few social or sporting facilities; few business opportunities; no services for tourists; and environmental degradation.
This is not a growth or even a survivable scenario.
In the financial climate after the Autumn of 2008, there was no point in hoping that any external agency would come along and give Cove a hand up.
So Cove decided to do it for itself. The plan was to build a community wind farm and to use the revenue from this to address the list of community deficits above, in the striving for sustainability.
In the process the Development Trust set out to learn from other communities that had copper fastened their own futures – and its case its net widely, not just around Lomond communities but going on study visits to a suburban city fringe community like Renton and to a rural one like Tyndrum.
Everywhere they went, they learned more and they learned differently – and ll the while they were learning about the wind farm industry, the technologies, the necessary infrastructure, the installations.
They needed to learn first to be able to write tight tender documents. This team, working for this community, starting from scratch, got to a point where public sector procurement staff could beneficially learn from them.
Murdo MacDonald, Convener of the Development Trust talks almost disbelievingly of the challenges the Trust’s team has faced and overcome, at the scale of the gap between the nothing they knew at the outset and the depth of the expertise they have worked hard to obtain by this stage.
He speaks with gratitude for the range of interest, help and advice offered to help them on their way – by Argyll and Bute Council’s planning officers, Community Energy Scotland, SNH, the Climate Challenge Fund, HIE, the Ministry of Defence and individual professionals in the various corners of the vast learning landscape they traversed.
Oh and they raised half a million pounds in two years.
What are they looking at?
Take a deep breath. This community will owe £15 million [£10 million for the turbines and £5 million for the civil engineering].
But it will own a windfarm – the hedge against the debt and the revenue generator of between £300,000 and £400,000 per annum that has the almost certain power to regenerate this able and courageous community on the shores of the mighty Clyde.
The location is not irrelevant. If you live in Cove you live on the water as much as anywhere. You sail.
If anyone knows that the wind is there and lives with the energy it generates under sail, it is Cove folk. They know how few days a year they can’t sail.
The planned wind farm – if it gets planning permission – will have five wind turbines, standing 92.5 metres high, each generating 2.3MW, a combined total of 11.5MW. There is a capable grid substation nearby at Whistlefield.
The turbines will be set below the skyline of the hills on the two adjacent farms hosting them, visible but ‘backclothed’ from the west below the ridge and hidden from the east because they don’t break the cover of the hilltop.
The farm will be wholly owned by the community’s Development Trust and all the revenue from it will go directly to projects for the community, addressing the missing pieces of its sustainable future outlined above.
The first 15 years will pay back the borrowing. The years from 16-20 will see annual income rise – falling back in years 21 to 25 when the government subsidy disappears.
Planning permission and the ballot
They have not yet got planning permission although they have kept the Argyll and Bute Council planning officers fully informed on what they have been doing all the way along. This will at least mean that they are not springing any unwelcome surprises on the planners. The future will depend on what decision the planners come to.
To help with the application for planning permission, the Trust hopes to demonstrate the strength of local support for the initiative, through a ballot, aiming to repeat the staggering 92% positive result of a ballot they held earlier in the project. Information on this is available online here.
- The proposed Cove Community Wind Farm – at 11.5MW capacity – will be the biggest of its kind in the UK, if it is consented.
- A 9MW farm is planned for the Isle of Lewis and, closer to completion, may well go operational earlier
- The biggest community wind farm currently in operation is the 6.5MW one at Westmill farm in Oxfordshire.
The public meeting
As this proposal enters its final stages, Cove Development Trust is holding a public meeting in Cove Burgh Hall on the Rosneath peninsula on Saturday 20th October, between 13.00 and 17.00, with a briefing at 15.00.
And the inspiration
There are few communities with the stomach for an initiative of this scale or with the ability and the will to do the ceaseless punishing work om research, record keeping, fund raising, grant applications and procedural management required to see it to a successful conclusion.
Communities that can do this are self-selecting because they just go and do it.
Other communities without the great good fortune to have access to local individuals who can form a team like the one at Cove can learn from them in ambition, in persistence and by seeking advice from them. They are enormously glad of the help other community teams have given them and will undoubtedly want to recognise that by doing the same.