Point and Sandwick Trust is able to fund so many community organisations and projects because of the revenue created at our wind farm, Beinn Ghrideag. The 3 turbine, 9MW scheme is built on common grazings land on the Isle of Lewis and is the biggest community wind farm in the UK.
With an expected operational life span of 25 years, the wind farm will generate millions of pounds for the sole benefit of the local and wider Western Isles communities. The timeline below highlights the efforts undertaken to realise the project, from the earliest ambitions of the first public meetings to the community driven wind farm that operates today.
A series of public meetings to discuss development of a large community-owned wind farm on common grazings located west of Stornoway took place and garnered strong local support. It was agreed at the outset that all the villages represented in Point and Sandwick would join together to build the wind farm and share the benefits, regardless of where the turbines would be finally located.
It was decided to begin with a three-turbine, 9 MW scheme to test the concept of a commercial-scale community scheme with the aim of future expansion across the Point and Sandwick common grazings once the first scheme was successfully completed. The initial size of 9MW was chosen as it was the largest that could be built while still remaining connected to the local distribution grid rather than to the national transmission grid.
The Trust is established as a community owned charity with a trading company to develop and operate the wind farm.
An initial feasibility study indicated that Beinn Ghrideag in the Sandwick North St common grazings was the best location for the first turbines.
With the help of a CARES loan from Community Energy Scotland, provisional planning consent was obtained in 2009.
Our first grid connection offer was conditional on the construction of a major undersea cable between Lewis and the mainland. At that time, this cable was pencilled in for construction in 2013 but has subsequently been pushed to its current completion schedule date of 2021.
We took our case for an earlier, non-cable dependent connection to Ofgem, the ultimate regulator of the grid. It took a year of discussion but, in July 2010, Ofgem approved the case and issued a derogation to SSE to allow our connection to go ahead separately from the proposed inter-connector cable.
Two further years to overcome technical objections from the Civil Aviation Authority and full planning consent was finally granted in 2012.
The final and biggest obstacle we had to overcome, however, was getting a Lease from our landowner, the Stornoway Trust. Unfortunately, the Stornoway Trust had previously leased the whole of the Point and Sandwick common grazings to Lewis WindPower (LWP), a private consortium jointly owned by Amec and EDF. The lease included the location of Beinn Ghrideag.
At the beginning, this was not expected to present a major problem as LWP had no plans at that stage for any development in the Point and Sandwick grazings. LWP were focused instead on a large scheme they were trying to develop in the north of Lewis. However, things changed in 2009 when LWP’s planning application for this scheme was rejected and they turned their attention from north Lewis to the Point and Sandwick grazings. It was then that LWP decided to locate a new project, which they called ‘The Stornoway Wind Farm’, in the very same area of Point and Sandwick grazings which we had identified as ideal for community development.
To protect their interest in their proposed new wind farm, LWP demanded that Point and Sandwick Trust agree not to support any further community schemes in this area which were detrimental to their proposed new ‘Stornoway Wind Farm’.
This was obviously contrary to the purpose for which PST had been set up in 2005 and we objected vigorously to the new condition, as it would disqualify us from supporting additional community turbines on the common grazings.
Unfortunately, the landlord, the Stornoway Trust supported LWP and insisted on making it a condition of our lease. We therefore had no choice but to accept this new condition, very reluctantly, to allow the 9MW Beinn Ghrideag community scheme to proceed. The revised lease, amended to accommodate these LWP requirements, was finally signed in September 2012.
Because of the delay caused by protracted lease arguments, our chosen lender was not able to start their due diligence on our loan until late 2012. It became clear that the lenders emerging financial difficulties during the course of 2013 meant that they could not provide the funding we needed. We had to find another lender and so we opened talks with Santander Bank towards the end of 2013.
Construction began on site with the commencement of civil works in August 2014.
By September, talks with Santander and with our other funders were successful and, in September 2014, we finally reached financial close on the record-breaking Beinn Ghrideag wind farm.
We are immensely grateful for the grant funding we received from the Big Lottery (£900,000), the grant and loan from Social Investment Scotland (£1.1 million), the loan from the Scottish Investment Bank (£2.2 million) and, of course, the loan from Santander Bank (£10.4 million).
We are also hugely indebted to our technical, legal and financial advisors, SgurrEnergy, HBJ Gateley and Mann Judd, for their tremendous support and commitment to our cause from the very outset.
Three Enercon turbines arrived by ship at Arnish harbour in mid-February 2015 and the installation of the turbines commenced on the 17th.
Despite an extremely wet and windy Spring, installation was completed and the turbines energised at the end of May 2015.
Today the £14 million project is still the UK’s biggest community owned wind farm and currently produces £900,000 a year in net income for the local community. Once capital costs have been repaid, it is expected to generate £2 million a year for support of projects in and around the local area.