Standing in a windswept field on Harlock Hill in south Cumbria in the mid 1990s, you would have been forgiven for not realising you were witnessing the start of a revolution in community energy in the UK. A Swedish company had come to Britain to introduce the Swedish model of communities owning their own power generation. Finding a suitable site on Harlock Hill owned by a sympathetic farmer, they got permission to erect five wind turbines and invited local people to form a co-operative and buy a stake in the project. That was the start of Baywind. The share offer was noted by the press and Baywind was able to buy two of the five turbines with 1275 members, although many of the original members were unsure at the time if they would see their money again! Production by the community owned turbines began in January 1997.
BAYWIND TAKES CONTROL
That might have been the end of the matter, with Baywind being a relatively inactive minority partner with the Swedish Company. However, after various disappointments, the Swedish Company abandoned its plans to establish itself in the UK, potentially leaving Baywind to fend for itself. This is when things really started to happen. Firstly, the board of Baywind, supported democratically by the members, decided to try to buy the whole site. The Co-operative Bank was prepared to back this radical plan, so (eventually) the deal was done; Baywind became the owner and operator of a wind farm and had to learn quickly how to manage it effectively and profitably. It is Baywind’s proud record that in each year since then, despite supporting new ventures, and contributing to local educational and energy conservation projects, Baywind has paid a return to the members annually ranging from 3% to 9%.
The performance of Baywind is described under its web site at www.baywind.coop
THE CREATION OF ENERGY4ALL
Probably the greatest strength of the mutual (co-operative) model is that the members decide the direction of the business by electing the board and deciding policy on a one member, one vote basis. Baywind members have always been keen on developing the UK community energy sector. This enthusiasm for new ventures was illustrated perfectly in 2002 when Baywind decided that as no new community energy co-ops were being created in the UK, it was time to take the initiative. Hence the second crucial turning point in Baywind’s life was when the members of Baywind voted to support the creation of Energy4All Ltd, a new business designed solely to help other communities to develop their own renewable energy schemes and owned by Baywind and the new co-operatives created by Energy4All. In taking this decision, Baywind members were well aware that this would reduce their own annual returns, as Energy4All would need financial support in its early years. However, the faith they showed in making this decision has been rewarded by the events of the past 13 years, as Energy4All has developed into by far the most successful creator of community energy schemes in the UK.
For more information on Energy4All visit www.energy4all.co.uk
TIME FOR CHANGE
In 1996 the Baywind turbines were near state-of-the-art 500kW machines with a total capacity of 2.5MW, capable of supplying the needs of about 1100 homes. Over the years, these turbines have served the community very well indeed, but they began to show their age, with costly breakdowns becoming more common despite the sort of careful maintenance and management that only a dedicated local team can provide. It is also true that in the 18 years since these turbines started work, wind turbine technology has moved on substantially. Looking out over Morecambe Bay from the Harlock Hill site today, you may catch sight of the hundreds of huge off-shore turbines that have been installed in recent years, something that was inconceivable when Baywind was created. Even on-shore the trend is for larger, much more efficient machines.
Over recent years, Infinergy, a commercial wind farm developer and Baywind have worked together to develop the Furness Wind Farm. In its final form, the Furness Wind Farm consists of three turbines owned by Mean Moor Wind Farm Ltd situated on Mean Moor, neighbouring Harlock Hill where High Winds Community Energy Society owns two turbines. Each turbine is rated at 2.3MW and High Winds will produce nearly twice as much electricity from two machines as Baywind did from five smaller machines. High Winds follows on from Baywind by operating wind turbines on Harlock Hill but High Winds is a totally separate entity from Baywind.
After the grant of planning consent in July 2014 Infinergy and High Winds worked to deliver the project. It’s difficult to summarise the work that was undertaken in a sentence or two but it involved developing plans to satisfy the 32 planning conditions, to work through legal agreements for leasing the land at Harlock Hill, the procurement of turbines and the associated equipment to distribute electricity into the grid, the appointment of contractors to carry out the preparation of the site, the removal of Baywind’s turbines and the adjustment of the access route to accommodate abnormal loads and that’s only part of it!
Work started to prepare the Harlock Hill site in autumn 2015 and Baywind’s turbines were removed by mid-January 2016. Meanwhile improvement of the access was going on and involved smoothing corners, improving clearance and strengthening the road edges for abnormal loads and a 500t capacity crane. At the end of construction and commissioning, the road after clearing and renovating will be an improved route for local traffic.
The site is now back to near its original state after commissioning. Hedges on site will be thickened and bat surveys carried out. We expect that the turbines will generate electricity for at least the next 20 years