Whitehills Community Wind Power: A Case Study

Take a drive along the main A98, following the coastline of the Moray Firth from Fochabers to Fraserburgh, in the rugged north east corner of Scotland, and you can’t fail to notice the clutch of wind turbines, towering above the surrounding countryside from miles away. Their hypnotically turning blades dominate the skyline long before you reach the old fishing village of Whitehills.

Built on the disused Second World War Boyndie airfield and in one of the windiest places in Britain, the arrival of the wind farm has been a major success for the area, offering a good investment opportunity for the residents themselves and pouring ‘green’ money into the Whitehills community coffers.

Moreover, at full capacity, the scheme’s seven generators provide some 14MW of clean energy – equivalent to the average demand of around 8,500 houses.

As Frederico Falck explains “these turbines produce enough electricity to power every home in Banff, Whitehills, Portsoy and the neighbouring countryside”– and he should know, he’s the man behind Falck Renewables, the company ultimately running the project.

The Scheme Starts

It all began back in 2002, with an extensive feasibility study that took each of the relevant factors into account, from assessing the wind resource, to investigating the likely environmental impact of the scheme. The planning application for the project was made in June of 2003 and a year later, it was approved by Aberdeenshire Council. Construction began in the summer of 2005 and by April 2006, the wind farm had started generating electricity, although full completion of the work took another couple of months.

One of the key appeals of the Boyndie site was the fact that so much of the old RAF base’s infrastructure remained; the runways, roads and tracks had remained largely intact ever since 1945, which allowed excellent access and represented a significant cost saving for the project.

The Turbines

The turbines themselves were built, supplied and installed by the German company Enercon, with police escorts and large flat-back lorries being required to transport the giant components along the roads of north Aberdeenshire to the site. The scale of these wind generators is enormous – the rotor diameter is a staggering 71 metres and the central hub of each turbine stands fully 65m above ground. It’s small wonder, then, that they’re so conspicuous!

They begin generating electricity once the wind reaches a speed of around 3m/s and reach their maximum output – a rated 2000kW apiece – when it blows at 13m/s, with an automatic shut down operating when the wind exceeds 28m/s to prevent storm damage. According to the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) UK wind database, the mean annual wind speed in the area, measured at a height of 45 metres is around 8m/s. The location could hardly be more ideal.

Local Benefits

In many similar schemes elsewhere throughout the UK, the local community owns one or more of the turbines and derives an income based on the electricity it, or they, generate. The arrangement at Boyndie is different. The wind farm itself is owned and operated by a specially formed company – Boyndie Wind Energy Ltd – which is part of Falck Renewables and pays a performance-based ‘royalty’ to the local residents, through a community fund. Set up to support initiatives which meet the area’s needs and focussing especially on educational and environmental projects or those which bring particular benefits to local residents, the fund is administered by the Whitehills and District Community Council.

“As of the last Council meeting (March 2009), that figure was just slightly under £25,000” says a clearly very happy Doddy Milne and other villagers are equally enthusiastic about the benefits the wind farm has brought. It’s easy to see why when you remember that the local MP is Alec Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister and architect of the Scottish Government’s ambitious target to meet 40 per cent of the country’s energy requirements from renewable sources by 2020.

In addition, locals also had a preferential opportunity to purchase shares in a cooperative to take a more direct personal benefit from the profits the wind farm makes – and it’s important to remember that the venture is a major commercial undertaking, exporting clean, green electricity to the grid. Many of the residents of Whitehills and the surrounding area bought in to the project and walking along the rows of traditional fishermen’s cottages – built with their gable ends facing the often ferocious North Sea – you certainly won’t hear any voices of regret!

Large enough to be commercially viable, but small enough to keep the feeling of community involvement, this wind farm seems to have managed to avoid much of the negative press and wrangling that has surrounded so many others. You may see it for miles as you approach the village, but somehow it’s a sight that seems to offer hope for the future, rather than being just another blot on the landscape.

As Doddy Milne explains, “they’ve just become like old friends” – assuming, that is, that the rest of your friends are giants!