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November 1, 2007

Our Power’s wood chipping plant

Our Power is owned by the community charity Here We Are (HWA), and profits from the chips (and other micro power projects in future) will provide ongoing income.


Jim Mather, MSP for Argyll and Minister for Energy, will open Our Power’s wood chipping plant on Friday 2nd November at Cairndow, at the head of Loch Fyne. The wood chips produced by the plant will fuel the biomass boiler – previously fuelled by oil – which heats water for Lakeland Smolts.

This is a small but significant development that could hold lessons for other parts of Scotland. Though 40% of energy consumed in Scotland is for heat we are still behind much of Europe in wood fuel usage. Many European countries are way ahead in boiler manufacture, standards of delivery, storage systems, and specifications on the quality of chips and firewood.

Our Power is owned by the community charity Here We Are (HWA), and profits from the chips (and perhaps other micro power projects in future) will provide revenue for it. But it could not have come about without a grant from the Scottish Biomass Support Scheme (SBSS), a Forestry Commission and Scottish Executive intervention that aims to improve our national carbon footprint. Out of the 78 projects funded by this scheme (all have to be up and running by March 08) only 24 were for wood fuel supply projects and only one of those was community owned – Our Power, Cairndow. Our Power’s grant from the SBSS was for 50% of capital expenditure for biomass equipment. HWA raised £22.5k from its own supporters. Money for set up costs, the purchase of a tractor and 50% balance of equipment – £75k in total – has had to be sourced from the banking sector.

The 2nd November event will be the culmination of an initiative begun two and a half years ago by HWA. It raised funds to research and put on an exhibition at the HWA centre on the history of the power that has been generated within the Cairndow locality – water mills, old micro hydro including the turbine installed at Ardkinglas House in 1907, and the great Hydro Board schemes of the 1950s. Three of these used water from within the Cairndow parish.

A feasibility study to explore all sources of renewable energy was commissioned from Renewable Devices, Edinburgh. Sun and wind proved insufficient. There were two potential hydro schemes, impractical for different reasons, the remaining one with potential was a biomass plant to heat water for Lakeland Smolts, the Norwegian owned local salmon hatchery. Lakeland saw the attraction of reducing its oil consumption and a guaranteed energy price for a 5 year period.

This has finally materialised in the shape of a three -way project. Lakeland Smolts, Mawera (the boiler manufacturers, installers and now Energy Supply Company ) and HWA. Lakeland and Mawera between them also received SBSS 50% funding to help get the project off the ground.

A crucial element in the initiative is, of course, the timber – in Argyll trees grow fast and well. With Forestry Commission’s assistance HWA has negotiated a 5 year contract – for the quantity and at the moisture content needed by Lakeland at a price that makes the project viable. The timber will be sourced within a 30 mile radius. HWA now needs to look beyond its one (good sized) customer for others within the same radius. Long distance transportation of timber for chips is not sustainable. And if the SBSS grant scheme is intended to reduce carbon emissions and help regenerate fragile rural areas of the Highlands the current support to the large scale co-fired power stations of the South and East should be discouraged, or the timber/chips price increases will threaten the future viability of the small rural initiatives.

HWA has received support and encouragement from Argyll, Lomond and the Islands Energy Agency (ALIenergy). Neither it nor the SBSS were set up specifically for communities or for social enterprise. However Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company, (HICEC), Communities Scotland Seedcorn Fund , and the Development Trust Association’s Business Accelerator scheme all were. Our Power has been the beneficiary of all these schemes for feasibility, research and development.

The staff and committee of Here We Are – and directors of Our Power – are now looking forward to putting the “social capital ” they have acquired to good use. A timely reminder to heed our first First Minister Donald Dewar: “There must be ways of integrating the economic the social and the environmental and the desire to live 21st century lives while still maintaining Scotland’s beauty.”

For further info`, contact;

Here We Are
PA26 8BL
Tel 01499 600350
Fax 01499 600331