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Southwell’s energy debate

THE good people in Southwell say they want to have community renewable energy – and many are even willing to pay for it themselves. And with a planning application for two new wind turbines due to be decided soon, they may soon have an energy source in which to invest their aspirations and money.

Nottingham Trent University’s application to build a pair of 67-metre high turbines at its Brackenhurst campus, overlooking Southwell, is up for a decision at Newark and Sherwood District this month. NTU wants one of the turbines for Brackenhurst while the other, according to the NTU website, is to be ‘funded and owned by an NTU and community partnership investment.’
The group leading the community investment side of the project is Synergy Southwell, which involves Simon Tilley, a founder member of the Hockerton Housing Project and a director of the community wind turbine just up the road at Hockerton village. To gauge the level of interest in renewable energy in Southwell the group put out a questionnaire in which residents were asked, ‘would you be interested in investing in a wind turbine?’, ‘do you think renewable energy schemes should be commercially or community funded, or a mixture of both?’ and ‘should we as a community make more use of renewable energy?’
The poll received 283 responses and the results, which are published in full in Southwell’s The Bramley newspaper, show that more than 80% of people who responded are in favour of making use of renewable energy in the town; 45% also said they would invest in a scheme, with 30% undecided. The next issue is, then, what kind of renewable energy scheme do most people favour - and according to the survey 75% are in favour of solar.
But, as the survey organisers acknowledge, solar is a problem since the Government’s recent reform of the Feed-in Tariff scheme means that large solar schemes are now much less attractive financially. And with Southwell’s River Greet not big enough to produce community-sized hydro power, Synergy Southwell has concluded that the most effective community scheme is wind. A public meeting at the Minster School was held in July to consider the issues.
If a community wind turbine or turbines does turn out to be Southwell’s route to greater energy autonomy, then locals already have an example nearby at Hockerton village to show how it can be financed. The community wind turbine at Hockerton, which opened in March 2010, also provides a handy route-map for other communities in Nottinghamshire who are interested in renewable energy but are wondering how such schemes can be paid for. At Hockerton, the total cost of the turbine – from purchase of a second-hand model to installation – was £225,450. No grants went towards paying for this; all the money was raised by 75 private investors through an industrial and provident society set up for the purpose. Of these investors, 38 live in Hockerton and the Southwell area, with the Hockerton people alone putting £81,500 into the scheme.
What do you get out of such schemes as an investor? In the Hockerton case all of the investors will receive annual 5-8% return on their shares, with their full investment to be repaid after 15-20 years. The turbine, meanwhile, should produce 330MWh per year to cover Hockerton’s 275MWh domestic consumption. The financial return, of course, comes from the production of electricity and sale to the grid, with the surplus after running costs going into community schemes in Hockerton. The latest financial figures for the turbine have just been published at and show that as of June 27 2011 the directors were able to pay 5% interest to investors and that the turbine has generated a ‘substantial sum’ for the village. This was reported in local media as amounting to £3,000
That’s all fine for Hockerton, with its 55 houses; but what about larger villages and towns such as Southwell? Simon Tilley told GreenTech Business Network that the same financial model can work just as well in Southwell as it has done in Hockerton. “You set up a legal instrument, raise the money from shareholders and go from there,” he said. “For bigger projects you might have to get a loan.” Yet, clearly, even one large 330kW wind turbine on the hill at Brackenhurst above Southwell would not be enough to supply Southwell’s needs. According to Tilley, this turbine could supply around one tenth of Southwell’s needs. So, a mosaic of renewables including PV and possible an anaerobic digestor would be needed to cover Southwell’s consumption, he said. “This is the way forward,” he added.
The wind turbine planning application, 11/00792/FUL, was submitted to Newark and Sherwood District Council on June 6. The decision target date was August 10.

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