At the beginning of May 2012, wind turbine specialists Ecodyn Limited were contacted by Orkney farmer Stephen Budge. Mr. Budge was keen to diversify his very windy farm but was concerned about the risk and uncertainty involved in doing so. We at Ecodyn were confident that the site was an excellent location for a wind turbine andwe were also sure that our inside knowledge of the sector allowed us to weigh up the extravagant claims flying around at the time about the performance and longevity of turbines and turbine companies. This allowed us to take a lot of the risk out of the process; so Ecodyn and Stephen agreed to work together to develop the site at Mount Pleasant Farm, South Ronaldsay.
Ecodyn agreed to take on responsibility for planning, grid and legal costs. The project started with a study of available land, grid connection points, neighbours, designated sites, acoustics etc. which resulted in the submission of a screening request and grid connection applications for three turbines.
Harbon wind turbines were selected on the basis of the track record of both the company and the design in similar remote and windy locations. Added benefits of installing the Harbon machine were:
Wind Turbine Planning
Orkney Islands Council was happy with the proposed project design, so the planning application process began in earnest. Even though the turbine is relatively small at 30m to tip, the planning department required comprehensive photomontages in strict accordance with SNH visualisation guidance. A cluster of objections to the north of the site led to the decision to remove the northern turbine, then more detailed consideration of local policies by the Planning Officer led to the removal of the southern turbine, leaving the development as a single 60kW Harbon connected directly to the farm.
The location of the remaining turbine was then changed several times to move it out of the sight-lines of neighbouring properties and then again to provide greater separation from the feeding locations of short-eared owls, which tend to hunt along field boundaries.
Planning Permission – Photomontages
Further delay was caused by the Councillors uniquely requiring that the photomontages be resubmitted with an accurate representation of the actual tower and turbine design, rather than the usual generic white monopole tower generated by most photomontage software. As one Councillor pointed out, “you don’t apply for planning permission for a house and just show us a picture of a house, it has to be a picture of the actual house you want to build.” However, with a bit of work on a graphics package, this was achieved and at the next committee meeting, approval was granted.
Legal Process and Finance
In the meantime, legal negotiations were going on in the background to translate verbal agreements into binding contracts that everyone was happy with. The legal process was pretty straightforward, as Ecodyn has previously developed sites along similar lines; however the financial aspect proved more challenging. Renewable energy publications and the inboxes of renewable energy professionals are full to bursting with advertisements for wonderful financial products designed specifically for the sector. It took several months of meetings, applications, phone calls and emails to discover that every single one was a waste of time but eventually this realisation proved beneficial as it demanded a more imaginative approach to funding the project.
Renewable Energy Co-operative
The Mount Pleasant Renewable Energy Co-operative was established to attract funding to the project, with the additional benefit that this approach is eligible for tax relief through the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS). EIS investments qualify for a range of benefits including (depending on tax status) a 30% rebate against income tax, freedom from capital gains tax and relief from inheritance tax. The Co-operative prospectus used very conservative performance estimates but even so, all the shares were sold in very short order. Even with this conservative approach, projected returns are much better than most investments and the additional attraction of tax advantages and environmental benefits make a compelling argument. One investor was considering buying an electric car before realising that investing the additional cost over a fuel-efficient conventional vehicle in the co-op would result in a decent return on investment and several times the carbon savings.
Wind Turbine Performance
The turbine is generating approximately 200,00kWh per annum. Mr. Budge and all the members of the co-operative are very happy and looking forward to at least 20 years of reliable generation of both power and income.