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Why support wind power?

Popularising Wind Turbines

Wind power is popular in Australia and is very necessary in the fight against climate change, but this popularity has a tendency to fade when it is suggested that a wind farm is to be built nearby. How might the popularity be maintained and the NIMBY factor overcome?

At present many wind power developers take a lot of trouble to involve the local community in planning and development; for example by holding information days and setting up and keeping informed community liason groups (I am a member of one such group). This has proved to be only moderately effective.

Written 2012/10/13
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com
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Introduction

One of the main problems that show up when a wind farm is proposed is that people tend to see it as something being imposed on the local community; there is a need to provide the communities with more of a sense of some sort of 'ownership' of the projects. For example, when the Crystal Brook Wind Farm was proposed to come within about 4km of my home town I was disappointed to find many of the local people, even some of those I thought to be environmentally minded, opposing the project.

 

Perestroika and Glasnost

Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the old Soviet Union in March 1985. He called for perestroika (reform) and glasnost (openness). This was one of the most optimistic periods of Russian history.

I would like to see some perestroika and glasnost in the wind industry. Reform in having some level of community ownership in every new wind farm. This would make them much more palatable to the communities in which they are built. Openness in no more confidentiality in contracts between wind farm operators and land owners than is absolutely necessary and more freely available data on wind farm noise levels – especially infrasound. Secrecy in the former and little reliable information on the latter has made the public suspicious.

Many wind farm businesses have provided community funds in which they provide finance for community projects. While this is successful to some extent it seems to have two drawbacks:

  • It can be seen as a simple bribe to sweeten the 'bitter pill' of the wind farm;
  • Many people who are not community minded don't see it as providing any benefit to them as individuals.
The possibility of providing cheaper power to people who live near wind farms has been considered. This may work, but complications would arise in some cases. For example, if a 25% reduction in price was offered, how would one handle the case of a household with solar power where very little was paid for power (or if the householder received a refund from the power retailer)?

I think there are more effective solutions; if the wind farm developers want to take the trouble.

 
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Local ownership

In Denmark and Germany community-owned wind farms are common, and this seems to have made the developments much more acceptable to the local people; but in Australia community ownership is very unusual. (As I write there are three community owned wind farms: Denmark, WA; Hepburn, Victoria; Mount Barker, WA; and another proposed at Fremantle.) If there was a will among wind farm builders this situation could easily be improved.

At the proposed Flyers Creek Wind Farm in NSW Infigen has suggested that one of the turbines could be owned by the community. A major problem here is that the whole of the cost of one turbine must be raised, and no more than that. What to do if the local people want to invest only a half that much money, or what if they want to invest an amount equal to the cost of one and a half turbines?

A more practical model

 

The arithmetic

This is particularly speculative. $1000 is one 400 000th part of $400m. The dividends could be calculated as the gross income from the sale of all the electricity minus the cost of maintenance of the wind farm. So the annual dividend paid on each share would be something like one 400 000th part of the annual electricity sales minus one 400 000th part of the annual maintenance costs. The value of the shares would probably be allowed to 'float' once the wind farm got under way.

Overcoming envy

A common reaction in some landholders who will not host turbines in a proposed wind farm seems to be envy of those of their neighbours who are to receive big lease payments. If they were offered shares, at perhaps an advantagious rate, the envy might be reduced.

Ethical investment

Shares in wind farm would have to be attractive to ethical investors and ethical investment funds.
Shares in a proposed wind farm could be offered to the local people. For example, suppose a wind farm of 100 turbines was expected to cost $400 million; shares of $1000 each could be sold and dividends payed calculated proportionally on the net income generated by the wind farm.

If the wind power company operating the wind farm did not want to be directly involved in payments to the share holders, or in buying and selling shares, a cooperative could be set up to handle these matters.

Of course something more than a simple proportional share in the profits could be offered to the local residents if it was desired to make the investment very attractive; or perhaps bonus shares might be offered to nearby residents – the closer the resident, the more bonus shares. People who were not locals could also be included; but in this case, for the sake of ease of administration, higher minimum investments might be imposed; perhaps $5000.

An advantage of this model would be that the shares could be made available to nearby residents even after the wind farm was fully operational; so that those who missed out earlier because of cash-flow problems, or those who had a change of heart, could still become involved.






A Wind Power support group

As mentioned above, wind power is popular among the great majority of Australians. However, a number of vocal anti-wind power groups have sprung up. There is a need for organising the pro-wind power people and recently an organisation called the Victorian Wind Alliance has been created to fill this need. As a South Australian I would like to see a similar group formed in my state. (If you are interested in being involved, please get in touch – my email address in near the top of this page.)





Links

Popularising wind power

Akademia Wiatru; a Polish site – "the mission of the akademii wiatru, in addition to popularising wind energy, is increasing the knowledge and competence of all of within its scope".

Community ownership

energy4all, UK; "Delivering Community-Owned Green Power" uses a system of community-owned cooperatives in each of a number of wind farms in the UK. The wind farms involved are mostly much smaller than typical Australian projects. The Dunbeath Wind Farm in Scotland seems to have more in common with potential Australian projects than most of the other Energy4All enterprises. Shares on offer range from £250 to £20 000 (Aus$390 to Aus$31 000).

A New Model for Community Renewable Energy Projects; CENREC. "The concept is simple: a local community co-operative has established to raise funds and purchase a wind turbine in a commercial wind farm development project. CENREC proposes to purchase a wind turbine in Infigen Energy's proposed Flyers Creek Wind Farm project."

Is co-operative energy the solution to climate change? Published in The UK Guardian. "In fact green energy co-ops are now one of the fastest growing parts of the UK co-operative sector having grown by 24% in the past four years."






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A more practical model
Introduction
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Local ownership
Wind power support group

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