Point and Sandwick Trust passes million pound milestone

The wide range of local community projects helped by the income from the Beinn Ghrideag wind farm among the topics discussed at the Point and Sandwick Trust AGM on Tuesday, November 20.

The meeting, in Ionad Stoodie in Point, was packed out as members and supporters of Point and Sandwick Trust gathered to hear about 2018.

There were two guests speakers – Adam Frew from the Wood Group, who reported on the progress of the Hydrogen Ferry project – and Shane Wilmott from Enercon, who explained what had happened at Beinn Ghrideag earlier in the year, when one of the turbines malfunctioned.

The meeting was opened by new Chair Norman Mackenzie (pictured above), who said he had come to realise, since becoming a director, “what a truly amazing community organisation PST is” – and promised that its contribution to community life and rural regeneration would “grow significantly” as we move through these early years of consolidation.

“At a time of ever increasing restrictions on public funding I see how the Trust is making a real difference in our community,” he said.

“We hope to continue building on our success and perhaps, in the next few years, begin a programme of investing in community infrastructure whilst maintaining our support for the community through community revenue grants.

“Our model of community wind farm development is clearly one that works and it is hard, for me, to understand why this approach has not been prioritised by agencies with influence over the development of renewables both on the islands and throughout the UK. We will continue to make the case for more positive support of such schemes.”

He thanked former Chair Angus McCormack, now Honorary President of Point and Sandwick Trust, for his years of service and Angus received framed photographs of the Beinn Ghrideag turbines, taken at sunrise by Sandie Maciver, as a token of Point and Sandwick’s appreciation.

Honorary President Angus McCormack receives his thank you gifts from PST board members Sonja Macleod (centre) and Liz Chaplin

The first part of the meeting was taken up with the annual accounts, with John Moffat running through the figures for the two separate business arms – Point and Sandwick Power, which operates the Beinn Ghrideag wind farm, and Point and Sandwick Development Trust, the charity which receives profits from the wind farm for distributing to good causes.

The Power company made a gross profit of £2.5million, in the year ending 31 May 2018. Its overall profit before depreciation and before paying the donation to Point and Sandwick Trust was £1.289million. Of that, £530,000 was transferred to PST for distributing in grants. 

The Power company also paid £51,000 to Stornoway Trust in rent, £67,000 to crofting communities as compensation for the turbines, £21,000 in access payments to other crofting communities. A further £38,000 went to Stornoway Trust, for the Joint Projects Fund it administers in partnership with PST, and more than £5,000 to Western Isles Development Trust.

John Moffat said: “In the year up to May 2018, the Power company paid out something like £720,000 to local bodies that give benefit to the community.” However, retained profits – the total profit made to date but not yet paid over to PST – at the end of May stood at £913,000.

He explained the company was still making hefty loan repayments over Beinn Ghrideag – £895,000 in interest charges for the year while also repaying nearly £1million towards the wind farm’s debt. Another £1.1million was in the PSP account at the year end, with Beinn Ghrideag’s main lender, Santander, dictating the use of that.

“What you can do and how much you can draw out at any one time is strictly governed by Santander,” said John Moffat. 

“A total of £913,000 of profit will eventually come through in cash and make its way through to the charity and to other community projects but currently we’re constrained by Santander.”

It was already a big increase on the previous year, though, and John called it “a good result, a good performance and great for the community”, adding: “This is all new money. It wasn’t here before. That’s around £900,000 going into the community in the last financial year, which is fantastic.”

As usual, the accounts will be posted on Point and Sandwick Trust’s website and on the OSCR (Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator) website when they have been submitted.

When it was the turn of Point and Sandwick Trust’s General Manager, Donald John MacSween, to address the AGM, he gave a detailed breakdown of the year’s investment in the community.

Donald John MacSween reveals the headline figure

All the activities were governed by one founding principle – “to promote the social, educational, cultural and environmental wellbeing of the people of the Western Isles with a focus on the communities of Point and Sandwick”.

He revealed the headline figure of £1,028,084 – the total paid out in grants to the community since it began operations in 2016. He listed grants made since last November to community organisations and broke the down into PST support for these four types of wellbeing: social, educational, cultural and environmental.

Social wellbeing grants included £9,250 to Tiumpanhead Community Association, £5,000 to Advocacy Western Isles and £5,000 to Crossroads Lewis, plus grants to friendship groups for the over 60s, £30,000 to the Hebrides Alpha Project and £55,000 to Bethesda Care Home and Hospice. 

Grants to boost educational wellbeing included £20,000 to help set up the Lews Castle College UHI Innovation Centre, £500 for specialised cycling equipment for children with Additional Support Needs at Sgoil an Rubha and Sandwick Learning Centre and £500 for Fèis an Rubha.

Recipients of cultural wellbeing grants included £5,000 to keep the Donald MacLeod Memorial Piping Competition on island and £10,000 sponsorship to Acair for the new Iolaire book, The Darkest Dawn. 

Environmental wellbeing projects included the Western Isles Croft Woodland Project and the ongoing LED Energy Communities project in Point and Sandwick.

The spirit of giving was very much in evidence at the AGM, with cheque presentations to three organisations on the night.

Two friendship groups for the older folk, Cairdean Og Allt nan Gall and Tiumpanhead Young at Heart, received £1000 and £1,300 respectively, while Point Parent and Toddler group received £300.

Receiving their cheque, Cairdean chair Duncan Don said: “Thanks very much folks. I don’t know where we’d be without the Trust.”

All these grants, said Donald John MacSween, “represent a real difference to our community”, adding: “It’s a real enabler”.

He ended with thanks to the members and supporters. “Most of all thank you all for your support over the years. Thank you for your positive feedback and we hope to be seeing a lot more of you over the coming year.”

Picking up where Donald John left off, community wind farm developer Calum MacDonald touched on the year’s challenges – including the malfunction of one of the turbines, which was off from May to the beginning of November.

Even though the turbine had now been repaired, the affected generator would be replaced by Enercon next Spring, at no cost to Point and Sandwick, to ensure it would have a full operational lifespan.

That issue – “the generating unit burned out, bascially” – was discussed in detail by the Enercon representatives who were at the AGM.

Shane Wilmott, Customer Relations Manager for Enercon Services UK, said the problem had been a rare one and “particularly tricky” and that they had needed to call on expert assistance from Germany to resolve it.

However, he said lessons had been learned and the turbine was back to full capacity, although they would replace the generator as a precaution.

That project will cost several hundred thousand pounds, although Enercon will foot the bill as part of the comprehensive maintenance agreement that Enercon has with the PSP which basically means that Enercon pay for all repairs and replacements over the lifetime of the turbines.

Calum MacDonald addresses the AGM with the Enercon representatives

Calum also told the AGM that, in terms of wind yield, it had not actually been a particularly good year – “it’s been a very nice year weather-wise but not very windy”.

However, because energy prices had been high Beinn Ghrideag’s income had not been affected – in fact, it was even better than the year before. 

As well as discussing technicalities and finance, Calum also outlined PST’s visions for the future, including how the islands’ renewables potential could be harnessed by innovative technology that would allow the islands to supply more of its own energy needs. 

He also gave a brief update on the Hydrogen Ferry project before handing over to Adam Frew from Wood Group, who has written the report on the recently concluded feasibility study. The report will go to Scottish Government, who part-funded the study, and its findings will be published.

Adam Frew from Wood Group, author of the report on the Hydrogen Ferry project

The study, which involved multiple partners including ferry owners CMAL, Ferguson Marine shipyard and Wood, considered how community wind farms could be used as part of a system of hydrogen creation, to power CalMac ferries. It looked at potential routes and wind farm sites, among other factors, and the next stage will be a detailed feasibility study, working more closely on design and finance, if funding for that is approved. 

Ultimately it could lead to a sea-going hydrogen-powered ferry… and maybe a whole CalMac fleet of them. “The feasibility study is a little bit ahead of the curve but not by much,” said Adam Frew. “You’re going to see more and more of this type of thing in the news.”

Calum talked of the importance of the island being seen to be proactive an leading in new types of renewable technology.

“We’ve got to make sure that we don’t just sit back and let other people do all these things because if you do, then in 10, 15, 20 years time you’ll find that there’s been a huge transition from fossil fuels to things like hydrogen and electrification of transport but it’s still all getting imported and controlled from the mainland and the Western Isles economy will be as poor as ever. 

“So we’ve got to keep our noses in front and that’s what we, at Point and Sandwick Trust, are trying to do. It shows that Point and Sandwick is more than just a company that makes money for charitable grants. We’re looking to build the future in a way maximizes the benefits for all our islands.”

• All pictures of the AGM by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos