Feel the power: Did you know you can buy shares in a wind turbine?
Frustrated by big energy companies? Wales has a unique opportunity for people to part own a community funded wind turbine and showcase a local energy system that works for everyone.
Tue 9 Oct 2018
Determined to help Wales down the path of clean, green energy, the Granell Community Energy project was formed in 2016 to raise money to build and run a wind turbine to power the local community. The 500kW Enercon wind turbine will be installed near Cribyn, Lampeter in the spring of 2019.
The way it has been set up means that anyone (aged 16+) in the UK can become a member by purchasing shares and become a part-owner of a wind turbine.
We spoke to Leila Sharland, Chair of Grannell Community Energy, to discover how people like you and me can put our money where our wind power is, and understand what the challenges are in the UK for community owned energy projects.
Tell us a bit about how Grannell Community Energy was established and why you got involved?
Leila Sharland: Grannell Community Energy was actually established by my mum, which is how I got involved. At the time I was working as an advisor to community energy groups across the UK and by mere coincidence, Seren Energy approached my mum and her friend Lindsay Thomas to see if they wanted to take on the project for the community as they had supported it in planning. Mum naturally turned to me for support which I initially provided through my day job and then when I moved on from that position, I joined as a fellow volunteer.
Why do you feel community led energy groups like this one are important?
LS: There is so much we have no control over nowadays. Even with elections, we have very little say over how our buses and trains are run or where our household waste goes, let alone the economy or electricity systems.
Community-led energy groups allow us to have some input and local management of their new energy developments and, importantly, the means of keeping as much of the income generated in the local area as possible.
Image The Granell Community Energy board (L-R): Lindsay Thomas, Guy Hopwood, Jane O’Brien, Brian Mark, Leila Kiersch - Chair
Is wind energy important for the UK’s future?
LS: When I say I love wind energy, I get the sense sometimes that I’m a lone voice. But I’m not. Depending on which surveys you trust, some 60-80% of people are supportive of new onshore wind turbines. They can be visually prominent but they also are one of the cheapest forms of new energy generation and, despite being intermittent, make a valuable contribution to electricity supply in the UK both day and night, throughout the year.
Denmark generates 40% of its electricity from wind, while at peak the UK has generated up to 36% of total grid demand with the few turbines we have so far. Imagine what just twice as many wind turbines built with battery storage could achieve.
What is the environmental impact of this project?
LS: The main benefit has to be that every new wind turbine reduces the need for dirty electricity generation through things like coal. We expect to generate some 1700 MWh per year which will feed into the grid and is enough to power nearly 300 UK homes.
At peak the UK has generated up to 36% of total grid demand with the few turbines we have so far. Imagine what just twice as many wind turbines built with battery storage could achieve
What makes a project like this unique in the UK?
LS: This is very much a community led and run project. It will be owned only by those people who subscribe to the share offer. The community is not-for-profit – so there’s no large bits of money going anywhere, just a fair return to those who invest and put their funds towards letting the turbine be built.
The reason my mum wanted to come on-board was because the ward of Llanfihangel-Ystrad where the turbine will be installed is poorly served by buses and community facilities. We have fought hard to ensure that the project costs will be kept low so that a fund can be put aside each year to support facilities and people in that area. We’re doing this not because we have to (like large big wind farms) but because we want to.
All the people on the committee live in south Ceredigion within a few miles of the turbine, except myself. I lived in mid-Wales, near Aberystwyth, for decades but work has now taken me to Cornwall. My mum still lives near Aberaeron and I will be visiting regularly. We are all volunteers and making a project like this work takes up huge amounts of time.
Importantly, we are also one of the last community wind turbine projects for now. There was a big change in how new renewable energy projects are supported by the government about three years ago and we managed to register the project in time to get some Feed in Tariff. Most of the income we generate will come from selling our electricity to energy companies. We want to prove that community-owned wind turbines can be built with minimal public support.
How can ordinary people get involved and make a difference?
LS: There’s so many ways the public can get involved and you don’t have to have loads of money. The easiest way is to join as a member by buying shares. Shares cost £1 each and we need people to buy at least 100 to ensure we cover our costs. We have asked that people outside the local area buy 250 so we attract as many local people as possible. It is planned that members will receive interest of approximately 5% on their shares over the lifetime of the project, so it’s not a gift, but an investment.
Otherwise, people can help raise awareness by retweeting us and sharing our story on social media.
The really, super keen, are welcome to ask about joining the Board when we have our first elections at the AGM in 2019. You have to be a member to stand, but it’s a fantastic way to get to the heart of the project and really increase your skills.
How many projects like this one are available in the UK for investment?
LS: Barely any! There was a bit of a glut of these projects a while ago when support was strong but we are one of maybe four or five community renewable projects currently seeking new members and certainly one of a very few who are raising money in order to be built.
What does the future of energy generation look like to you?
LS: A rainbow of renewable energy sources and storage. It will take us another good 10-15 years to get there with the right policies, but I think it’s what the public want. We only have to look at some leading places to know this is possible – Denmark, Costa Rica and Iceland are all rapidly weaning themselves away from oil, gas and coal.
The share offer runs until 14 December 2018. For more information on Grannell Community Energy please visit www.grannellcoop.org.uk.