PEOPLE in Northumberland should be offered part-ownership of wind farms planned near their communities in a bid to overcome the widespread public hostility to the schemes, it has been claimed.
Environmental campaigner Malcolm Reid says residents should be able to secure deals which allow them to own one of the turbines which are built on their doorsteps, giving them a significant financial benefit from the profits the machines make.
Mr Reid, a strong advocate of wind power and renewable energy, has defended onshore turbines at a time when they have come in for increasingly strident criticism from high-profile figures such as the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, and the Duke of Northumberland.
He says Northumberland should follow the example of Fintry in Stirlingshire, where local people were able to acquire ownership of one of 15 turbines built near the village on the Earslburn Estate.
The community gets an annual income of £60,000 over the first 15 years, while the cost of the 115m-high turbine is paid off, and expects up to £4m over the remaining 10-year life of the site. The money has been used to improve energy efficiency in local homes and renovate the school, and will be earmarked for other community projects.
Mr Reid – who lives at Riding Mill and is part of the environmental group Transition Tynedale – says Northumberland should adopt a similar approach to help tackle the unfairness of the current system of sharing the financial benefits from wind farm schemes.
He says landowners and wind farm companies make big profits from building turbines but other local people suffer a real or perceived loss, which causes “anger and mistrust”. He is urging Northumberland County Council to seek Fintry-style deals when giving conditional approval for new wind farm applications above a specified size, together with securing safeguards for local peat reserves.
Yesterday he said: “It is better if people have part-ownership of a wind farm rather than just a community fund set up by the developer, which many people see as a sop or kind of sweetener.”
Mr Reid raised the Fintry experience during a series of presentations he recently made to the council’s three area committees. He was allowed to put the case for wind farm development in the wake of similar presentations made to the committees by Bill Short of Kirkwhelpington earlier this year.
Mr Short has argued that Northumberland is doing far more than its fair share in meeting renewable energy targets. He claims the county has already had four times as much wind generation approved as any other county outside the North East, and says it is already meeting renewables targets set for 2060.
But Mr Reid says Northumberland’s 2010 target for installed capacity – built rather than just approved – was 180 megawatts. It only managed 4.5megawatts. Even now, 18 months on, installed wind turbines total 9.5 megawatts of capacity, about one twentieth of the 2010 target, he claims.
Mr Reid says it is inevitable that some parts of the country, including Northumberland, will always be under greater pressure from developers, because they are windier.
He said: “The presentations I gave to the area committees sparked some intelligent discussion, and the consensus view was that the councillors would like more information on the various facts and figures which myself and Bill Short have produced on this issue.”
He is also calling on the county council to be more proactive in developing renewable energy storage facilities to provide back-up for wind farm schemes.