What is a Community Wind Farm?
As of March 2022, there are 11,091 wind turbines in the UK, with a total installed capacity of more than 24.6 gigawatts (GW). This is generated both on land and in the sea, with 14.1 GW generated onshore and 10.4 GW generated offshore. The UK’s capacity ranks sixth globally and boasts the world’s largest offshore wind farm, currently under construction in the North Sea. Once complete and operating in 2026, the Dogger Bank Wind Farm off the east coast of England will generate enough renewable energy to meet 5% of the United Kingdom’s annual electricity demand and provide enough electricity to power about five million homes. Let’s look a bit closer at how these wind farms typically operate.
Standing vertically out of the ground or the sea, most of us have seen wind turbines. They are colossal in size, with blades measuring roughly 170 feet in length and its tower standing 295 feet in height – the same height as the Statue of Liberty!
While some believe they are unsightly and inefficient, we cannot underestimate the desperate need for renewable sources of energy. Wind turbines look a bit like gigantic fans, operating on a simple principle: wind generates energy. The turbine blades are propelled by the wind around a rotor, which in turn turns a generator, which generates electricity. As a result of a combination of factors including the earth’s rotation, the sun heating the atmosphere unevenly and the irregularities of the earth’s surface, wind is produced as a form of solar energy.
Both the terms ‘wind energy’ and ‘wind power’ refer to the process of harnessing the wind to generate mechanical or electrical energy. This mechanical energy can be utilised for specialised tasks (such as pumping water or grinding material) or it can be converted to electricity via a generator. This is no new concept: wind power has been harnessed by humans for thousands of years. Windmills in their earliest iterations used wind to pump water and crush grain, whereas modern wind turbines use the power of the wind to generate electricity.
Community Wind Farms
The concept of Community Wind Farms seems to be gaining increasing popularity in the UK. Community-owned wind energy projects are just that: community-owned. While the majority of wind energy projects are held by corporations with little or no connection to the local community, community wind projects are owned by the local community. Instead of defining community wind projects by the type or size of turbines, ownership models are used to describe them.
Schools, hospitals, businesses, farms, ranches and community electricity supply units can all benefit from community wind projects. Community wind farms can be purchased and operated by rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities in order to diversify their energy supply. Interestingly, residents can also form cooperatives or limited liability companies to create community wind projects and sell the electricity generated by the turbines to a local power company. As community wind turbines consume very little water, the bulk of community wind projects are located in rural areas with a high priority on water conservation.
In terms of long-term feasibility, one recent high-level analysis found that community-owned wind farms in Scotland generate 34 times the amount of benefit payments to local communities as privately owned wind farms. On behalf of the Point and Sandwick Development Trust, Aquatera Ltd. conducted an analysis of Scottish wind farms. Community-owned wind farms reportedly generated an average annual revenue of £170,000 per installed MW, significantly more than the industry standard for community benefit payments of £5,000 per installed MW annually. This important study verifies what our industry has long known: that community energy outperforms commercially owned generation. The advantages to local communities, brought about by community management and ownership of renewable energies, indicates that renewable community energy is critical to achieving Net Zero.