Repowering Communities case study: Gigha

The Isle of Gigha wind farm opened in 2004 and was the first community-owned, grid-connected wind farm in the UK.

The Isle of Gigha is a small island off the west coast of Kintyre in Scotland. Gigha’s population had been declining since it peaked the eighteenth century at around 700. It had fallen to 110 by the time of the 2001 Census. In 2001, the laird put the island up for sale and the inhabitants set up the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust to buy it. In 2002, they purchased the island in a community buy-out with grants and loans from the Scottish Land Fund (£2.5 million grant and £1 million loan) and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (£500,000 grant). The loan was repaid by selling the laird’s house and fundraising.

Following community ownership of the island, the decline of the population has been reversed. From a low of 98 at the time of the buy-out, Gigha’s population has increased to more than 150. New businesses have been started and a major housing improvement programme undertaken.

The Gigha wind farm

When the wind farm was proposed, everyone was in support except for one person – but he accepted the argument that the island as a whole would benefit and so the eventual vote for the wind farm was unanimous.

The Gigha Wind farm, locally known as “The Dancing Ladies”, consists of three Vestas V27 turbines with an installed capacity of 225kW each. These were pre-commissioned (second-hand), bought from Windcluster’s Haverigg 1 wind farm in Cumbria that was upgrading to larger turbines. Each had eight years of their design life left when installed.

The financial model developed to fund the project comprised a three-way mix of grant funding, loan finance and equity finance. In Gigha’s case, grants of £50,000 and £82,000 where secured from the Fresh Futures, Sustainable Communities Project Fund (National Lottery funding administered by Forward Scotland) and the Scottish Community and Householder Renewables Initiative (Scottish Executive money administered by Highlands and Islands Enterprise), commercial loan finance of £148,000 was provided by Social Investment Scotland and equity holdings of £80,000 and £40,000 were taken by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust. The total capital cost was £440,000.

The loan was repaid over a five year period at a fixed rate of interest, with the equity held by Highlands and Islands Enterprise bought back by the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust in year five. Furthermore, over the first eight years of the project, a capital reinvestment fund of approximately £160,000 will be built up, sufficient to replace the wind turbines (blades, nacelles, gearboxes, generators and so) when required.

The three turbines generate about 2.1GWh/year of electricity, a carbon saving of 903 tonnes CO2 per annum. That is equivalent to about two-thirds of Gigha’s electricity consumption. The electricity is sold to Green Energy UK, a renewable electricity supplier.

Use of the income from the wind farm

The turbines, generating up to £150,000 of profit a year, enabled the repayment of the turbines, the creation of a capital reinvestment fund and the funding of development projects on the island.

About £85,000 a year from the wind farm has been spent on the programme to renovate the houses on the island. The community has had further grants from the government’s Rural Empty Properties Fund for renovations. An assessment done at the time of the buy-out found that all but two of the 47 homes on the island were below the Tolerable Standard and those two were not far above the Tolerable Standard. Not only was there a lack of insulation, the houses were in a very poor state of repair due to lack of maintenance for many years. Twenty-nine homes have now been renovated. Although this means higher rents, it also brings higher standards, warmer living conditions and lower energy bills. The rent increases for tenants are calculated so as to be less than the savings in bills. The amount of refurbishment needed is so extensive that it would have been cheaper to build new replacement houses, but refurbishment was chosen to maintain the heritage of the island. The homes were heated by coal fires. They have been upgraded to log-burning stoves combined with electric heating or oil heating. Renovations were initially targeted at two groups: families with young children without central heating and pensioners without central heating. After those groups had been dealt with, the refurbishment programme worked south to north (most of the housing is in the south of the island). The homes that remain to be refurbished are farm houses, which are larger and, therefore, more expensive to refurbish.

Possible future developments

The wind farm project is such a success that the community is willing to move towards the development of other renewable energy projects. As part of the Powerdown Consortium grouping 27 communities across Scotland, Community Energy Scotland and the Development Trust Association Scotland, Remi Wassermann was appointed Project Officer by the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust for a period of two years from April 2009. The Climate Challenge Fund awarded the Consortium £1.49 million and it aims to bring lasting change to carbon consumption activities across Scottish communities and to help decouple progressive community development from fossil fuel use.

Remi has been working towards the installation of a fourth wind turbine on the island to increase the renewable energy generation by 33% (approximately 0.7GWh/year) and reduce CO2 emissions by 301 TeqCO2/year. The community voted unanimously for another turbine in October 2009, but financing is still being arranged. When Gigha received funding for the present wind turbines, it was regarded as a community in need by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, but that is no longer the case.

Remi has made presentations informing the islanders about energy efficiency measures and local fuel consumption options to reduce their carbon footprint. Events are planned, but none have yet taken place.

An assessment of the financial and technical feasibility of an anaerobic digestion plant is ongoing. Four dairy farms are currently operating on the island creating an opportunity for processing the collected cattle slurry (usually directly spread on the fields) into a digester. It would produce biogas in the form of methane that could be burnt and generates electricity and heat when combined with a combined heat and power (CHP) unit. The electricity produced would be used mainly to compensate for the reduced output of the existing wind turbines when the wind is too weak. The fact that biogas can be stored would also ensure that electricity can be produced on demand and thus obtain a premium price paid for each kWh of renewable electricity generated. However, anaerobic digestion is currently too expensive to be profitable without grant support. The community-owned hotel could also benefit from the heat produced and greatly reduce its bills and carbon emissions, as it is currently oil-heated. The digester would also produce nutrient rich and odourless liquid effluent that can be used for direct spreading on the fields by the farmers. Some of it could also be used for the community-owned golf course as odour would not be an issue. Dry matter compost could be used as an on-site bio-fertiliser or sold to generate a new source of income. The total dairy herd from which slurry is collected is approximately 500 cows and would add a further 13% to 22% of renewable energy generation to the existing 2.1GWh annual output of the wind turbines. The resulting estimated carbon savings would be between 119 and 189 tonnes of CO2 per annum.

With self-catering cottages and B&B available for visitors on the island, there is an opportunity to cut down energy consumption and carbon emissions by looking at insulation, water use and alternatives to fossil fuel use in the form of solar heating and PV.

An all-island supply scheme is under investigation. Given the fact that the island has one point of connection to the mainland grid through a submarine cable, import and export of electricity to and from the island can be readily metered using a two-way meter at the point of connection. Potentially, therefore, subject to leasing of the existing island grid, a community-owned supply company could provide power directly to all island users. At times of excess generation from the community-owned generation plants (wind turbines and digester), the surplus of electricity could be sold and exported.

Simon Dresner is a Research Fellow at the Policy Studies Institute. He would like to thank William McSporran and Remi Wasserman for their help with this case study.

Tags: , ,  

Leave a comment

(all comments are subject to moderation)

Comments are closed.