Although Fintry Development Trust has done a lot of other things in the past few years, we’re probably still best know for the relationship we have with Earlsburn Windfarm. The essence of this relationship is that the Trust via its trading subsidiary Fintry Renewable Energy Enterprise has a right to a ‘turbine’s worth’ of the income generated by the whole windfarm. The trading subsidiary donates the income it earns from the turbine to FDT and this money is used to support the work of FDT in the community.
The following is a summary of how this relationship came about. The process took a number of years so the following is intended to capture the key events along the way.
The process began in 2003 when two householders in the village, Martin Turner and Bill Acton, with the support of the community council were looking at the options for some sort of community renewable initiative in the local area. At the same community council meeting at which they were reporting back on their work, West Coast Energy were also present to inform the community about the proposed Earlsburn Windfarm. Bill and Martin took the decision at that point that rather than trying to achieve a standalone community project they would look to work with West Coast Energy (and Falck Renewables who were going to be the ultimate owners of the windfarm) to develop some kind of joint venture.
It was at this point that the other two founders of FDT, Gordon Cowtan and David Howell became involved and the four began the process of discussing and negotiating with West Coast and Falck about how a joint venture might work. There were a number of other community engagement options on the table, including standard community benefit payments and a co-operative buy-in scheme. However at a meeting held in the local pub, the community agreed that a ‘community turbine’ benefiting the whole community would be the best way forward. This was felt to be the most fair approach: a co-operative buy-in scheme would have benefited those that had money to invest the most, while we also felt that we could do a lot better than the community benefit payment that was on offer.
Because no-one had done this before, the discussion and negotiation process with West Coast and Falck took some time but it was eventually agreed that an additional 15th turbine could be added to the 14-turbine development that was originally proposed. This 15th turbine would be subject to its own planning application, have its own grid connection and the capital cost of it would have to be paid for by the community group.
Although we had done a lot of ‘back-of-the-envelope’ calculations, we recognised that it was important that we had some good evidence that what was being proposed was feasible so with the help of an SCHRI (Scottish Community and Householder Renewables Initiative) grant, we commissioned a feasibility study which developed a basic financial model and indicated that it was indeed viable.
With the aid of West Coast Energy and Falck Renewables we submitted a planning application to Stirling Council for the 15th turbine and this was duly approved. The next challenge was working out where the capital cost was going to come from. Our feasibility study and information from Falck had indicated that this was going to be of the order of somewhere between £2 million and £2.5 million including all the grid connection and infrastructure costs.
At the time there were no third sector funds available specifically for this type of investment although we could have applied to the Big Lottery. However, there would have been no guarantee of success and we were concerned about the amount of time and effort that would be involved in doing this and also concerned about the conditions that might be imposed on the project if we were successful. We therefore decided that the best approach was to look for commercial partners who would be interested in investing in the project.
We had a number of discussions with banks and other commercial investors who were interested in the project and these discussions were still taking place when Falck suggested that they lend us the money as part of their overall finance for the project. Although we were confident we could raise the money required, the offer from Falck clearly short-circuited the whole process and solved too many problems to turn down. It also meant we could share the grid connection for the whole windfarm. This approach also had clear benefits for Falck Renewables as well.
Another negotiation now took place between ourselves and Falck over the details of this agreement. This focussed on the repayment schedule and the interest rate for the loan. The agreement was eventually signed in December 2006. The structure of the agreement means that FREE receives its income every six months in April and October and the loan is repaid over 15 years (starting in December 2007).
Construction on the windfarm took place during 2007 and it was commissioned in December of that year with FREE receiving it’s first tranche of income in April 2008.