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Harnessing the power of a community

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In June 2008, after a 12-year planning process, five wind turbines started spinning at Westmill Wind Farm. Owned and funded by 2,300 members, many from the surrounding community, it’s a stunning example of local sustainability. B&GT caught up with Adam Twine, the dynamic founder behind the truly inspirational project.

This piece originally featured in B&GT’s Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2012.

There are a few moments in life when one feels a true sense of pride, achievement and glory. For Adam Twine, it’ll be difficult to beat the day that five wind turbines went live at his farm near Watchfield, South Oxfordshire. They were the result of over a decade of planning battles, but more importantly, were evidence of genuine community spirit.

The five turbines, which stand in formation on a disused RAF runway in the Vale of White Horse, have 2,300 owners – each of whom shared Twine’s passion enough to invest an average of £2,000 into the development. Westmill is therefore the largest community-owned wind farm in the UK.

I was looking at the resources on the farm and thought that farming was going to get tougher as we go forwards, so I was thinking about the resources and what I could do”, says Twine, when asked about his inspiration behind setting up the co-operative.

I looked at how I could integrate some of the environmental campaigning into my working business, rather than just doing it on the side, and I looked at what we were doing about energy, and what I could do about it. I was lucky enough to make various connections and pressed on from there.”

If I’m going to fly any flag, it’s going to be for community ownership

And so, in the late ‘90s, he began planning Westmill Wind Farm. He was adamant that the surrounding community should be able to benefit from such a project, so founding it as a co-operative was seen as the most appropriate way forward.

If I’m going to fly any flag, it’s going to be for community ownership”, he says, proudly.

It’s a no-brainer to me that still a lot of people don’t get. Enabling community ownership feels like a really sound way of enabling local people, if they’re able and want to invest in it, to get their pockets back, so that all the money isn’t disappearing to shareholders around the world.

Having the opportunity to own and generate their own electricity locally is fantastic, and being paid for it is a really good way of people engaging with the climate change debate, and getting a sense of the issues which we’re all facing and are very important.”

A video on the co-operative’s website proves just how passionate each of Westmill’s shareholders are about the project. One man, Dennis Belcher, describes his excitement in seeing the turbines being constructed, saying how he stayed up all night to watch the work being done. Another, John Willmer, talks about the “viability” of wind power, based on the vast resources available to the UK. However, the most poignant testimonial in the video comes from Derek Quinn, who said, “If my grandchildren were ever to say to me, ‘Why on Earth did you let the world get like this?’ I can say, ‘I tried’”.

The 2,300 owners of the Westmill Wind Farm Co-operative helped raise around £4.5m to fund the development. The electricity from three of the five 50m-high turbines – each of which have a generating capacity of 1.3 megawatts – is sold to Good Energy, the UK’s only 100% renewable power supplier, which supported Twine through the financing process. The electricity from the remaining two turbines goes to Co-operative Energy.

The fact that it took so long for the wind farm to actually go live, though – over 12 years in total – is a telling reminder of the notorious, and usually unjust, opposition that wind power receives.

The fact that I was local, and the fact that it was going to be community-owned, didn’t cut any ice with anybody because it was too wacky a concept – nobody understood what that meant”, explains Twine.

Some of the opposition we received was from people who were genuinely anxious, and that’s entirely reasonable. Some people do find turbines aesthetically hideous or certainly very disturbing and out of place, and that’s reasonable enough, too. You’re never going to change those attitudes. The stuff which is more complicated is the arguments that say the turbines weren’t very well financed, and although the political machinations were very keen that we pressed on through local planning rather than took it out to appeal, but we kept it in there and in the end, although it bounced around in lots of different directions, it came through.”

The people in opposition of the development, though, Twine says, were certainly in the minority.

We did a lot of work on local response and the acceptability”, he states.

My experience is that most people in principle are in favour of renewables and most people when it comes down to it being in their backyard, are actually OK with it. They might have reservations, and they might be swayed by some of the arguments going around, but in the end, most people think that it’s alright and that they’ve got bigger things in their life to worry about.”

With the Westmill Wind Farm having been in operation for four years now, Twine has set his sights on another similar project – this time focused on solar power. The Westmill Solar Co-operative share offer was launched on June 23 this year, and could become the largest community-owned solar power station in the world once it is able to raise the £4m equity needed to purchase it.

Most people in principle are in favour of renewables and most people when it comes down to it being in their backyard, are actually OK with it

Like the wind co-op, individuals can invest from £250 to £20,000 in the project, which will be funded by a 25-year feed-in tariff contract from the government. Westmill predicts the average return over the 24-year investment period to be 11% a year. A total of 21,000 panels have been installed at the site, beside the wind turbines, and the farm will produce 4.8 gigawatt hours of power every year – enough to provide electricity to 1,400 local homes.

The exciting bit about is as far as I can see”, Twine begins, “is that solar is generally less contentious than wind.

We will be the only solar farm in the UK that is doing community ownership at this moment in time. Hopefully there will be more – I really hope so. We’ve got the successful Westmill Wind Farm model now, so people can see what it is, can see it works, and that it does what it set out to do. I really hope that we’re going to get a much more significant amount of immediately local ownership. I think it’s a really exciting opportunity The share offer closes on July 31, and if it’s oversubscribed, priority will be given to local members.”

The Westmill Solar Co-operative began as a concept two years ago. After applying for planning permission in December 2010, consent was given three months later in March. Construction of the wind farm began in May last year. Whilst trying to source funding for the co-op, the developers, Low-Carbon Solar and the Westmill board came into contact with Cheshire-based company, Blue Energy, which had been hoping to do a rooftop industrial large-scale project, but hadn’t managed to secure any planning permission. Realising that each had something that the other one needed, Low-Carbon Solar and Blue Energy shook hands and the panels were swiftly installed, with a call option put in place for Westmill Solar Co-operative to purchase it back if it could raise sufficient capital within the year.

Westmill’s two community-owned renewable energy projects are proof that communities can do incredible things towards the UK achieving its various climate change targets. We have arguably the most plentiful wind resources in Europe, yet we’re not even close to becoming the European leader in the technology. Community-led projects like Westmill are vital in ensuring this isn’t the case.

There’s clearly the climate change argument, and also energy security”, concludes Twine, when asked why renewable energy is so important.

And then I guess I’d say not just renewables, but a community-owned project is an important and exciting opportunity that we should all be getting to grips with. A couple of weeks ago, for two days, over 50% of the whole of Germany’s electricity was supplied by solar PV. Most of it is from peoples’ roofs, not even from large solar farms. It is owned, it is embedded, it is decentralised, and it’s just a different and exciting model going into the 21st century.”

Further reading:

The Guide to Limitless Clean Energy

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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