We first contacted REG last December, and they were immediately supportive of the idea of a significant community element to the wind farm. So, with support from Sustainable Thornbury, we worked together on a suitable arrangement, and have now signed a legal agreement with REG that gives Bristol Energy Cooperative an exclusive option to the buy the entire M48 wind farm, should it be built.
This is a really a exciting development – it’s an opportunity for direct community ownership of the wind farm, with full control over the income it would generate. Community-owned renewable energy is thriving across the UK. One of the best-known examples is the 100% community-owned Westmill Wind Farm Coop in Oxfordshire (www.westmill.coop), where nearly £4 million was raised by over 2000 member-investors.
Benefits of the project
Here are some of the benefits we believe a community-owned M48 wind farm could bring:
1. Financial benefit for the local community: With wind developments of this sort, commercial developers typically contribute to a local Community Fund for each year the wind farm generates electricity. The Fund is then used to provide grants to be distributed as the community decides. The amount given to the fund is based on the Community Benefits Protocol, under which wind developers in England commit to provide a minimum of £1,000 per MW of installed capacity, per year.
REG has best-practice arrangements in this area, and had already committed to providing an amount far greater than this – near to £5,000 per MW per year. This would amount to several hundreds of thousands of pounds over the lifetime of the turbines. BEC would honour this commitment, and we’re delighted to see the government will soon be mandating this best practice amount for all wind developments of this size.
There may also be scope for front-loading some of this money, and this would enable the community to get substantial projects of their choice off the ground soon after the turbines started generating.
2. Financial benefits for investors: There will be an opportunity to invest in the project via a community share offer, similar to the way we run our solar PV share offers. We already have BEC members in the area, and hope many more people will take part. Those living locally would be given preference in the offer. It may also be possible to give locals a preferential rate of interest, and we’d welcome views on whether this is something that should be offered.
3. Local jobs: REG has pledged to use local firms where possible, to build the wind farm. This could bring local jobs in areas such as construction, haulage, steel fabrication, electrics, fencing, security and accommodation.
4. Green energy for local homes: The proposed turbines are very efficient, and the wind farm would generate enough electricity to power between 2,800 and 3,100 homes in an average year. The electricity would go directly into the local network, and no new pylons are required to get it there.
5. Caring for future generations: The UK has to meet legally-binding targets for renewable energy production, and each local area has to play its part in meeting these. Wind-generated power is a substantial contributor to South Gloucestershire’s target, but there are relatively few suitable sites for this in the county. As the proposed M48 site is situated between two motorways and close to a number of existing tall structures, it would seem to be one of the less intrusive locations, despite some understandable local concern. Between 183,000 and 206,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide would be saved over the 25-year life of the project.
6. Assistance with money-saving and energy-saving measures: We and our partners would be happy to assist the local community with energy-related projects that they’d like to develop. This could include, for example, solar panels on schools/community buildings/domestic houses, energy assessments and energy efficiency measures for households, renewable heat installations, and bulk discounts on electricity & gas contracts.
Find out more
We’ve organised a couple of drop-in sessions where you can hear more about this project in particular, and community-owned energy in general. They are on:
Thursday 20 June, 6-9 pm. Venue: The Swan Hotel, High St, Thornbury BS35 2AQ.
Wednesday 26 June, 3-6:30 pm. Venue: Olveston Parish Hall, Upper Tockington Road, Tockington BS32 4LQ.
You can also read more about the project on the REG web site.
What happens next?
The planning application was submitted last December, and the planning committee is likely to make a decision on it in August. If you’d like to make a comment on the application, you can do this on the S Glos council web site using the link below (the site can be a little slow at times). The planning application number is: PT12/4071/F