It’s January 26th 2012 and this is the coldest I’ve been so far this winter. There’s an icy wind that, on the downside, is reaching deep into my bones but, on the plus side, is driving the 225 Kwp Vestas turbine that towers above me. This is the Hockerton Community Wind Turbine and today marks two years since this turbine began generating electricity, and money, for the people of Hockerton.
It’s hard to believe that 15 years ago this community and the local planning authority were deeply suspicious of wind turbines. The original planning application for Hockerton Housing Project (HHP) was delayed because it included plans for a small 5 Kwp turbine and consent was only granted after plans for the turbine were dropped. It was only in 2002, after numerous applications and appeals, that permission was finally granted for a small turbine. Once it was clear that this turbine had no adverse effects a second turbine was approved without objections.
In July 2006 the village of Hockerton held a community meeting and agreed to look at the possibility of a community owned turbine. The turnaround was complete and people who had been opposed to the small turbine at HHP now saw the benefits of windpower.
The extent of this U-turn was made clear by the choice of location. Circles with a radius of 500 metres were drawn around all the houses in Hockerton Parish and areas outside these circles but within the parish were considered. One early proposal would have sited the turbine at the far end of the parish well away from the village but local people favoured a site much closer to the village so that it was clearly seen as ‘their turbine”.
By October 2007, after numerous community meetings in the unheated village hall and a great deal of voluntary work from Simon Tilley at HHP and other local people, a planning application was submitted.
The planning application included:
- An explanation of the concept to planners
- A community engagement report
- Location analysis and justification
- Details of electromagnetic disturbance
- Evidence of compliance with civil aviation and Ministry of Defence requirements
- Relevant planning policy
- Environmental impact
The process was made easier because the local planning authority (Newark & Sherwood District Council) had a policy supporting wind turbines and did not require full environmental impact surveys, which would include expensive and time consuming bat and bird surveys, for turbines below 230 Kwp. Incidentally, only one dead bird has been found near the community turbine with no evidence to suggest it was killed by the blades.
Planning was approved by July 2008 but there was then a long delay while a suitable turbine was sourced. At that time there were no feed-in-tariffs for renewable energy so the business case was based on a lower income from Renewable Obligations Certificates (ROCs) and expected sales of electricity. The finances favoured the purchase of a second-hand turbine for less than half the cost of a new one but this approach had the same inherent risks as buying a used car with no guarantees. Feelings among potential investors were gauged by asking people to stand along a line which represented the spectrum from new turbine (expensive but guaranteed) to used (cheap but risky). Fortunately people were grouped fairly closely around the ‘used’ end of the line.
By June 2009 a suitable turbine was located at a cost of £65,000. This was quickly raised from local investors. In total the project cost nearly £235,000 including delivery, erection, commissioning and project management, and the balance was raised by a community share issue. By this stage the community had created an Industrial & Provident Society (IPS) to ‘own’ the development.
The biggest group of investors (£81,500) live in Hockerton, a parish with just over fifty households. Another £53,000 came from people in the surrounding area with a further £20,250 from the rest of Nottinghamshire. £68,500 came from elsewhere in the UK. Research by Cooperatives UK about what motivates people to invest in community renewable energy projects suggests that financial return is far less important than local community and environmental benefits.
Problems with connecting to the National Grid delayed commissioning until January 2010 but by January 26th 2012 the Hockerton Community Wind Turbine had generated over 614,000 Kw hours, worth around £125,000 to the project. Investors were paid a respectable 5% interest and Sustainable Hockerton (SHOCK) had a new problem – how to spend surplus income on improving the local environment and housing stock?
You can view a short film about wind power at Hockerton here.
Hockerton Housing Project run regular workshops on wind, other sources of renewable energy and many aspects of sustainable living. Visit their website for details: www.hockertonhousingproject.org.uk