A Cornwall hamlet has found great support for their wind turbine project despite earlier plans for a larger parish turbine being scrapped due to opposition from a local vociferous minority. A committed community group has backed the scheme that has so far produced 45,000 kWh of electricity.
The South Wheatley Environment Trust built a community-led 15 kW wind turbine in North Cornwall in 2006, with the profits going to further sustainable energy projects in the local area.
The project was entirely grant-financed. The overall cost of £45,000 was made up of grants from Clear Skies (50 per cent), EDF (48 per cent), and the final two per cent came from an award from a local TV competition looking for the best community schemes.
The aim was to make the most of the natural resources of North Cornwall. The trust is a not-for-profit organisation. The money made from selling the wind-generated electricity back to the grid is passed on to individual homes in and around the South Wheatly hamlet. This is in the form of grants to pay for energy conservation measures and renewable projects.
The biggest hurdle was local opposition. A much larger scheme to build a 250kW turbine for the entire parish had to be scrapped after fierce opposition from a minority group of activists.
The trust felt their project had been hi-jacked by this group, so decided to scale down the plans and build in one hamlet where there was great support for the idea. The turbine is much smaller, but this was the best way to avoid another battle.
Planning permission was granted in September 2004 after a very thorough application was prepared by the trust. Planning requirements vary from council to council. In order to make sure all angles were covered the trust had to factor in everything including noise, visual impact and TV Interference.
The manufacture of turbines was also an issue. When they bought the equipment nearly five years ago, there were very few options on the market. After thorough research, they chose a company with a proven track record in manufacturing turbines.
However, the turbine has been out of action for almost half of the three years it has been up. Numerous repairs have been needed and this has reduced the amount of electricity produced. Ideally the turbine should produce 30,000 kWh annually, but so far the figure stands at around 45,000 kWh since 2006.
The faulty equipment was unforeseeable, and the trust believes that there is now a better range of turbines to choose from.
Trustee Bill Andrews advises others to be proactive in tackling planning problems before it's too late. As soon as you have a general idea of size and location for the turbine, he recommends contacting:
This will help you assess whether you will face tough opposition from any of these organisations before you begin. Similarly, ask the council for a pre-screening report for the same purpose. This will save time and money.
Be very careful about building on or next to an area of outstanding natural beauty, as this is extremely difficult to get approval for.
The turbine has produced around 45,000 kWh, and this has been sold back to the grid. The profits have paid for more than £4,000 of grants to local people to be spent on energy conservation or renewable projects. These have included:
Councillor Adam Paynter of Cornwall Council said this local payback was essential because it means a very rural area can directly benefit from the scheme. He said:
"Community groups can play a vital role in delivering sustainable energy projects. They can provide buy-in for the community surrounding the installation. The South Wheatley Project has been a fantastic success on a small scale for a very rural community. Individuals are often not in a position either physically or financially to benefit from renewable technologies. By getting together, a good site can be found and the risks and rewards shared."
Local resident and member of the South Wheatley Renewable Energy Trust
1 May 2012