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May 2, 2012

The mysteries of public ownership

The Scottish Government owns Scottish Water. Scottish Water owns the land on which Seafield Sewage Works are situated. Community groups in Portobello and Leith have a plan to build Scotland’s first community owned wind turbine on aforementioned site. Scottish Govt supports community owned renewables. So why is Scottish Government so unwilling or unable to force Scottish Water to support this plan? It’s a mystery that needs to be sorted.



Porty & Leith Community Wind Turbine hits stumbling block in land negotiations

We are very disappointed that our plans for the first urban community wind turbine in Scotland have hit a stumbling block after the landowner, Scottish Water, changed their stance on the project at the start of this year.

Negotiations stalled after the private sector companies that manage the PFI contract at the treatment works demanded that Scottish Water accept liability for any accidents involving the proposed turbine on the site.

Although the risk of the wind turbine damaging the sewage works is extremely small, Scottish Water which is 100% owned by Scottish Ministers, have said they are not willing to accept the risk, even though PEDAL and Greener Leith would fund an insurance policy as part of the project.

Talks with Scottish Water and the companies that manage the Seafield site through a Private Finance Initiative began in February 2011. Despite receiving several written assurances from senior staff representing the organisations involved that they would back a turbine on this site, it was not until 19th January 2012, nearly a year later, that Scottish Water changed their stance on the crucial land deal.

Representatives of PEDAL, Greener Leith and Scottish Water last met on 1st February 2012 in an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the issue. Since then, having already put in many hundreds of hours over many months to get the project to this stage, we have attempted to lobby Scottish Government ministers in a bid to find a way forward. 
 We’ve called on them to direct Scottish Water to indemnify the PFI contract holders from any risk associated with this project. Alternatively, the Scottish Government should create an indemnity bond to cover community renewable projects on land subject to PFI. This could be covered in the future from the proceeds from community projects that have benefited from it.

To date Scottish Water has not changed its stance on the project.

The extent of the influence of private contractors over Scottish Water is unclear as the project requires a land deal that would last longer than the current PFI contract at Seafield and the land, like Scottish Water, is ultimately owned by the public sector. 

Proposals to build a single wind turbine on the site are the result of long standing collaboration between PEDAL and neighbouring community group Greener Leith. We already have funding from the Scottish Government and British Gas Energyshare in place to take the project to planning application and grid connection.

Expert opinion suggests that the Seafield site is the most productive site in the area. To date, our feasibility work has not uncovered any environmental or engineering reason why the Seafield project could not proceed. 

Eva Schonveld, Chair of PEDAL, Portobello Transition Town said:

 “We are particularly frustrated that Scottish Water has taken a whole year to identify these issues, during which a huge number of volunteer hours have been put into the project. Our feasibility work shows there are no technical ‘show-stoppers’ to building a turbine here, we are the most supported of nearly 1000 projects across the UK that took part in the Energyshare competition, and we have all the funds in place to take the project to planning submission.

“We continue to try to resolve the issue of liability through negotiations and political solutions. It seems extraordinary that dozens of wind turbines operate without incident on sewage works around the world, but this cannot be done on public land in Edinburgh. We simply cannot accept that, which is why we are determined to find a way forward.”

Charlotte Encombe, Chair of Greener Leith said:

“We are bitterly disappointed to have got this far only for the project to be stalled on what looks like a technicality.
We are exploring every available option to resolve this impasse, and will not give up on the project yet. We owe it to the thousands of supporters who voted for us on, the hundreds of local people who will benefit and our project funders to try to find a way to break the deadlock.”

Georgy Davis of Community Energy Scotland, a membership organisation that represents community renewable energy projects in Scotland said:

“This is a disappointing turn of affairs for this inspirational project that is a result of significant community efforts.

“The issue of indemnity for third parties in relation to land that has existing infrastructure on it is one that could be of increasing significance for community-led renewable projects particularly in the urban environment potentially hampering the Scottish Government’s ability to achieve it’s target for renewables in general and community renewables in particular. We believe the issue needs resolved.”

The two groups held a peaceful demonstration at the proposed site yesterday, 28th April. 

Large scale wind turbines can be found at industrial sites in other countries such as England, Holland and the USA. These include turbines at commercial ports, chemical plants, water treatment and waste water treatment works. Those to be found in operation in England include 1x 1,300KWp turbine at Hull Waste Water Treatment Works and 2x 600KWp turbines at Mablethorpe Sewage Treatment Works. Further, consented wind projects at waste water treatment works are: Bristol (4x 3,000KWp), Newthorpe in Nottinghamshire (1x 3,300KWp) and Severn-Trent in Leicestershire (1x 3,400KWp).

The Scottish Government’s target is to achieve 100% of electricity demand from renewables by 2020 and 500MW of community-owned renewables by the same date. See their Electricity Generation Policy at for more information. To-date, community owned renewable energy projects in Scotland have a combined generating capacity of 10.7MW, mainly in the form of on-shore wind and hydro.

More than 90 PFI or PPP projects exist on publicly-owned land around Scotland, therefore PEDAL and Greener Leith believe it is only a matter of time before other community renewables projects encounter similar problems.