Stories of Change: The past, present and future of energy

Energy Stories Library item 19 Aug 2017

Renewable Energy - A Farmer's Tale

The Westmill Wind Farm Co-op was the first 100% community owned onshore wind farm to be built in the south-east of England. It was the brainchild of Adam Twine, a third generation farmer, who has worked 1200 acres in the Wiltshire countryside for over 35 years.

Adam had a keen interest in developing renewable energy to help address the issues of climate change whilst also diversifying his farm income. And from the outset his ambition was for a wind turbine project that would be community owned.

To get the ball rolling, he set up a local group to help take his vision forward.The project did face a certain amount of local opposition, particularly as at the time in the early 1990’s windfarms weren’t a common sight in the countryside around leafy Wiltshire.

But the £7.7m scheme got the go ahead and around 50% of the 2500 members who invested in the co-operative lived within a 25 mile radius of the project. The five, 50m high turbines started turning in March 2008 and on average produce 10.2GW hours of electricity; enough to power 2,600 average homes.

Adam said: “It was really exciting as this was the first project of its kind that was developed and owned by the local community. A lot of people got involved, campaigning to support the project, whilst others were concerned and chose to oppose us. But it grew from within the community and they have a sense of pride and ownership. It also generates an income for the local community as a percentage of the profits go to a charity set up to promote renewable energy, conservation and to support local community projects.”

Following the success of the project, Adam began to explore solar options with a commercial developer intending to create a community owned solar farm. Unfortunately, they didn’t have enough time to organise a local group and raise the necessary funding to start development before the government’s Feed-in Tariff scheme funding levels unexpectedly and dramatically dropped.

He then found another commercial developer who had available cash and a team to build the array. Adam managed to negotiate an option for a community buy out within a year of commissioning so a co-operative was duly formed and managed to raise the required funds through a membership share offer. Within just six weeks they were able to raise the required £6m capital.

Adam said: “There was a shift from people thinking this was a maverick idea to believing that what we were doing was a financial returned through a share offer so it’s community owned. Again we had a lot of local people invest.”

The 20,000 polycrystalline photovoltaic panels went live in July 2011 on 30 acres of land and now generate 4.8GWh annually; enough energy to supply over 1,100 homes. Combined with the wind farm, the energy from both solar and wind power is the equivalent of reducing CO2 emissions by 7,500 tonnes.

From the solar and wind profits, over £20,000 per year goes to the charity Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust (WeSet) to promote and help fund sustainable energy projects within schools and the community. It also organises visits for children and uses student environmental educators to cascade the learning . So far over 10,000 people have visited the site.

The funding has enabled them to put solar panels on and insulate Watchfield village hall and other community buildings including the sports pavilion. Sheep graze the site in the winter and the wildflowers planted are a haven for a range of plants and animals including bees and hares.

Westmill has inspired and encouraged other groups to develop energy co-ops and Adam is now exploring the development of a battery storage site on the farm and a carbon cutting toolkit for farmers.

He said: “It took over 12 years to get the wind project off the ground and with the help if a committed group of people we managed to then expand our renewable ambitions with a wonderful solar array. This has not only led to the production of clean energy but benefitted the local community in so many ways.

“It has also made a huge difference to the farm income and has enabled me to farm less intensively without the use of use sprays and synthetic fertiliser and develop more permanent pasture.”

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