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February 23, 2011

Neilston gets the nod

‘Champagne all round!!’ isn’t the usual shout in the bar of Neilston’s local pub. But there are some moments in a community’s life that deserve to be celebrated and this was one. East Renfrewshire Council had just approved planning (courtesy of the chair’s casting vote) for a four turbine wind farm that will be jointly owned by the local development trust and a private developer.  This community now has a unique opportunity to turn some very ambitious dreams into reality

Neilston Community Wind Farm, a joint venture between a private developer and a community-owned development trust, was today (Wednesday 9th February) given the go-ahead by East Renfrewshire Council to build a four-turbine wind farm on a former landfill site south of Neilston. The unique community wind farm joint venture model developed by Carbon Free Developments Ltd (‘Carbon Free’) and proposed to its community partner Neilston Development Trust (NDT) is the first of its type in Scotland.   The joint venture model was structured to mitigate the primary reasons that community-led wind farm developments often fail, namely the scarcity of speculative capital to fund the development process and the lack of specialised development knowledge within the community.

Under the Neilston Community Wind Farm joint venture arrangements, Carbon Free both funded and managed the high-risk development process in exchange for NDT communicating the benefits of the wind farm to the local community, enlisting the community’s support and investing 49.9% of project costs, subject to planning consent.

The receipt of planning consent for the four turbine site confirms that the joint venture model provides a way for well organised and aspirational communities to benefit financially from commercial wind farm ventures without taking on the highly speculative early stage development risks associated with wind farm development.  

Neilston is a small town of 5,000+ residents with a proud history of cotton mills; however industry closures and the town’s increasing role as a commuter settlement for Glasgow has led to a loss of its identity during recent decades, a fate shared by many such small towns.    Since 2004, however, the Development Trust has been mobilising for change.  In 2009, Neilston became Scotland’s first Renaissance Town, a community-led programme that empowers local people to lead the regeneration of their place.   The Town Charter, a manifesto for the community proposes a 20-year vision for the town, which includes renewable energy developments as part of its sustainable future. Today’s consent provides this community with the means to deliver on these ambitions.  The Trust expects to receive up to £11 million (ELEVEN MILLION STERLING) in profit distributions over the 25-year life of the wind farm.

Pauline Gallacher of Neilston Development Trust, said,

“This is great news for Neilston and we look forward to helping deliver on the projects outlined in our town charter. The windfarm will help boost the town’s reputation as a place with a holistic vision of its future, and help us drive development and change. In hard pressed times, community energy and development trusts are vital parts of the picture. Our joint venture adds a new boost to the campaign for community energy as a central plank of the local empowerment agenda, with its potential to bring benefits to both urban and rural communities”.

Dominic Farrugia, Director of Carbon Free, said,

“We’re delighted to have worked with the community to secure consent, and look forward to seeing the aspirations of the community bear fruit.  We believe this joint venture model has significant potential to help interested communities benefit directly from Scotland’s green energy revolution.

The wind farm is expected to be operational in late 2012.