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North Harris Trust
by David Wake, North Harris Trust
The 62,000 acre North Harris estate was purchased in 2003 by the 700 strong local community. The North Harris Trust – a community-led charitable organisation now manages the estate.
The land is mountainous with the highest hill, An Cliseam, reaching 2622 ft (699m) and is of strong conservation value with multiple UK and European designations. The estate was historically seen from outside as a “hunting and fishing” destination but was (and is) also important to local people living on the 130 crofts across the area.
A Trust was established to manage the estate and to facilitate community development and regeneration. Like many farmers, The Trust is always looking for new income streams and to reduce their dependence on subsidies and grants.
It was agreed very early on, that a profitable project would be required to underpin long term sustainable development. With the aid of Community Energy Scotland, who manage the Scottish Government's C.A.R.E.S fund, a feasibility study was undertaken to determine the best options for renewable energy generation.
In 2005, work started on the design and approval process for a three-turbine wind farm.
No one at the Trust really understood at that point, the effort required to complete a wind farm project. Two years on, with Ornithology and Archaeology surveys, Visual Impact assessment, MoD approval, Grid connection, quotes for electrical and civil engineering, the project was heading for a public enquiry.
In early 2008, an objection was withdrawn and planning was finally granted. The Trust received permission for a 2.5MW farm. Initially plans were to develop only one of the three turbine sites, so funding and selection of a single 900kW turbine finally got under way. Now, at the end of 2009, with support in such a remote area being a problem for some turbine manufacturers, and the quality of the wind reducing the choice of machines, the Trust is still fighting to deliver this project that would earn £50-£100,000 annually over a twenty year term.
The lesson to learn from is that there are no quick wins in large-scale wind development. It takes a lot of commitment, especially in a Trust manned by volunteer Directors. The end result though, is a reliable, long term income stream.
Whilst this project creeps forward, The Trust is also working on two Hydro-electric schemes. Engineers are currently designing and writing the business plan for what will hopefully be a combined output of 500kW in two “run of river” projects. One scheme is adjacent to The Old Whaling Station – a historic monument that was powered over 100 years ago by hydro-electricity.
The capital costs involved in Hydro schemes are a fraction of those for the windfarm. There are still the statutory survey requirements though – in our case for fish and otters. A three month flow monitoring exercise will shortly get underway, as there is no historical local rain or river flow data available.
For those who are not sure about the economics of renewable energy, they should look into the new Feed-in tariff that may be active by summer 2010. This new scheme incentivises smaller projects by paying improved rates for any electricity fed back into the grid. The proposals include:
23p/kWh up to 15kW Wind-turbines
12p/kWh 10-100kW Hydro-turbines
With this in mind, North Harris Trust is also starting to develop plans for a 10kW wind turbine behind its Community Recycling Centre. The aim is to power the site and export any excess power to the grid. With a good supply of wind from the Atlantic, we hope to cover the cost of the centre from the excess electricity.
Now you might have thought this would be enough for any community organisation. However, the impending demolition of the building that the Trust currently operate from, has created a pressing need for office accommodation. Planning permission is now in place for a new office in Tarbert, Harris, with two integrated rental properties. Again, it is planned for the income from the rentals to cover the office running costs. The current plan is to fit solar panels for domestic water heating and air/air heat pumps for space heating. The Energy Saving Trust and their website has been a good source of information.
The key message from the 6 years experience we have in Harris, must be to engage with all the statutory bodies as early as possible. Use the Screening and Scoping application process at your local planning office to get early indication of hurdles you may encounter. Grant funding is available for renewable technology, and with the proposed Feed-in Tariff scheme, commercial lenders are showing a lot more interest.
Whilst it's good to test out these new technologies, the Trust cannot lose sight of the fact that its end game is a sustainable community. It's correct to talk of the environmental benefits of these projects, but our primary objective is income generation – an income that will allow the regeneration of Harris to carry on.