Promoting Community Wind Farming in Wales
Wales (United Kingdom) is implementing policies to promote the development of community owned wind farms. By involving residents in the planning process, and allowing them to share the benefits of local, renewable energy production, community projects can overcome much of the traditional resistance to wind energy. Supportive policies and initiatives are important to encourage such community led developments.
Onshore wind developments are often faced with strong local resistance. Be it due to aesthetic reasons, or noise concerns, wind energy is a common victim of the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome. Though the advantages of wind power are well known, their economic benefits are rarely shared with local residents, adding to this resistance. As a result, planning applications for wind farms are often contested, making them long, expensive and sometimes fruitless, limiting the growth of wind power.
Three hill-farming families in Northern Wales formed a cooperative ‘Cwmni Gwynt Teg’ (Fair Wind Company) to build a small wind farm on their land. Financed by personal investments, private loan funding for demonstration and commercial exploitation and a grant from the European Regional Development Fund, the farm began with three 1.3 MW turbines. The farm was connected to the national grid, and produced a total yearly output of 10 GWh/year, enough to supply over 2,000 homes. In 2008 a further 9 turbines were added.
The cooperative aimed to retain the economic benefit within the community. It employed, as far as possible, local contractors for the construction of the farm. Furthermore, the cooperative offered the local community an opportunity to invest in the farm through a bond issue, and began providing finance to local energy saving initiatives aimed at reducing people’s fuel bills. These kind of initiatives helped to establish a generally positive perception of the farm amongst local residents - over 1,500 came to watch the erection of the first turbine.
The success of Cwmni Gwynt Teg is being replicated across Wales, helped by the Welsh Government’s Ynni’r Fro programme. The programme was established specifically to support community scale renewable energy schemes and offers grant funding and loans to communities, to help fund environmental surveys, feasibility studies and eventually construction costs. It is also providing support, by giving free, independent, practical advice to communities, and promoting information sharing through the online sharing of information and toolkits.
Ynni’r Fro has already worked with over 200 community groups and social enterprises in Wales since its launch in 2010.
The Cwmni Gwynt Teg cooperative highlights how renewable energy production can thrive without public-sector leadership. Decentralised ownership of energy generation will boost the uptake of wind energy and other renewables by spreading financial gains around, thereby reducing local resistance and NIMBY-ism.
As shown by the Ynni’r Fro programme, the correct policy frameworks can encourage this practice. Citizens should be engaged, supported and encouraged to invest by relevant authorities.
For wind energy, spatial planning and permitting are also important, therefore zoning based on an analysis of electricity production potential, local acceptability and environmental impacts can be useful to designate likely development areas. Additionally, other measures such as introducing a feed-in tariff, long-term targets and regional expertise building, can create the appropriate climate to encourage community initiatives.
The development of a framework to encourage collective actions is something other regions can learn from, and programmes such as Ynni’r Fro provide easily replicable models. The policy is estimated to be GML 8.