x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Visionaries of Udny make power seem like a breeze

Rural communities in Scotland are harvesting green energy to improve their lot.

The rural population of Scotland used to subsist on potato and cattle farming, and considered the harsh winds nothing more than a nuisance.

In the 19th century, the population was decimated by emigration prompted by crop failures, and by industrialisation that destroyed cottage industries and drew people into the cities to the south.

In the 21st century, the one-time annoyance is proving to be a source of support for some enterprising communities that have turned to harnessing the wind.

One such community is Udny, comprising the Aberdeenshire villages of Udny Green and Pitmedden.Last July, their 2,500 inhabitants saw the commissioning of their very own 800-kilowatt wind turbine.

The huge structure became a reality because of the determination of community members who saw an opportunity to improve the villages' finances.

"I was working professionally with wind farm development, and I came to realise that it's quite a valuable business, and wondered whether I could do it in my own community," says Garth Entwistle, one of the five directors of the Udny Community Wind Turbine Company, set up to see the project through.

Over a five-year period, the group convinced the sceptics in the community, commissioned an environmental impact assessment, secured planning permission, a grid connection and financing, and built the turbine.

"Once you have planning permission, and you've got a good wind site, there's very little risk involved, because of the certainties of the electricity market and the support payments for renewable energy in the UK," Mr Entwistle says.

The Udny group opted to go it alone, refusing offers of financial help from power companies in return for a slice of the equity, and the turbine is wholly owned by the community.

After the bank receives higher-than-average repayments in the first year of operation, the turbine is expected to generate about £100,000 (Dh578,697) over a year, while paying off the £1.45 million loan. The electricity is bought by the power company Smart Energy under a 15-year power purchase agreement.

The profit will be handed to a community trust, which will decide how to spend the money. Among the ideas are scholarships for young people, sustainability projects and an annual music festival.

Experts believe the idea could catch on further. It is in the remote regions of Scotland that grid connection makes centralised electricity provision more expensive, and where conditions for wind power generation are best.

"These communities are harnessing this wind power relatively cheaply," says Jason Morris, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. "There is a cost of installation, but once that is made, with various subsidies that come with it, if you can then produce more than is needed for the community you can become a net exporter."

fneuhof@thenational.ae

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