Matthew Black explains what was involved in setting up a community energy scheme, and how the community are benefiting from it.
Interview with Matthew Black
The Fintry Development Trust Was Set Up in 2007, Following Negotiations with a Wind Farm Developer
The local community were approached back in 2003 by a developer that was looking to set up a wind farm in the area and was seeking local support. After years of negotiations the community agreed to the wind farm on the proviso that they install an extra turbine on the site, for the Fintry community. The wind farm developer paid for the additional turbine, which the community are gradually buying back over 15 years, together with paying maintenance, interest and land rental costs.
The Fintry Development Trust was set up to manage the remainder of any income from the turbine. With wind energy being very intermittent it is difficult for them to predict the income that they are likely to earn, and which is paid to them twice a year.
It is important to note, that while the developer paid for a 15th turbine, the community don't own a specific turbine but instead approximately a fifteenth share of the site.
There are a Number of Reasons why a Turbine May Not be Turning!
In response to Ben's curiosity about why you'll often see one turbine in a windfarm not turning, Matthew explains that it could be for different reasons. It could be for maintenance, to limit the amount of energy they're delivering to the grid in order to match lower demand at that given time, or to give preference to a nearby turbine so that output can be maximised based on the wind conditions.
The Village Itself is Not Wholly Powered by Wind
The electricity generated by the windfarm goes straight to the grid. The village then gets its electricity from the grid, so in practice it is not wholly powered by wind.
The Objectives of the Fintry Development Trust are to Make the Community a More Sustainable Place
The Trust manages the income from the turbine, and their objectives are primarily around the environment and renewable energy. Matthew gives examples of some of the projects which they have been involved in:
- Providing £500 grants to households to help them improve the energy efficiency or renewable energy generation of their homes
- Free cavity wall and loft insulation for households
- With the village being off the mains gas grid, they provide energy advice to help people choose cheaper and lower carbon technologies for their homes, such as biomass boilers, ground source heat pumps, solar hot water systems etc
- Installed a biomass boiler, solar panels and insulation at the local sports club which is at the hub of the community
- Installed solar panels on the local school and insulation at the local pub
- Created a community garden
- Set up a local wood supply chain to provide free firewood
Be Opportunistic and Persevere!
Matthew's advice to other communities that are keen to start something similar:
“It's really about focusing on the potential of the community and investing in that.”
He also highlights the need to be opportunistic – being aware of the grants available and the opportunities that are there – and not giving up. He suggests finding new ways to engage with the community and being open to people's views.
A lesson that Matthew learned however was about managing expectations! He explains that sometimes he would be so excited and involved in a project that he had told everyone about it and raised their expectations, only for one reason or another the project to not be viable.
Transparency and Clarity of Outcomes are Crucial
The Trust were set up as a charity, with 7 board members bringing their different experiences to oversee the Trust, and other staff to develop the projects. Matthew thinks that this approach sets a good example in terms of providing transparency and being very clear about their outcomes.
Find Out More
Watch “Wind of Change – Fintry Community Renewable Energy Film”
This 15-minute documentary explains how the people of Fintry embraced a community energy scheme.
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International Passive House Days
Each year Passive House residents fling open their doors and invite people in to have a look around and ask questions. This year they will be taking place around the world on 13-15 November 2015. Keep an eye on the International Passive House Association website to find out which buildings near you will be open to view.