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August 15, 2012

Just a hunch

It started as a casual conversation between friends in the backroom of a bar on the west side of Lewis. There had been talk of doing a deal with private developers of a small wind farm which would have earned some cash for the local area.  It would have been easier and quicker if they’d stuck with the original plan but there was a nagging feeling that the community could do much better than that.  Almost seven years later that hunch is about to pay a handsome return.


The Western Isles’ first ever community-owned wind turbine has arrived on Stornoway.  The colossal pieces were then transported to South Shawbost on the western side of the island, where they will be installed on common grazing ground. It is hoped that installation will be complete by the end of the week, and that the turbine will be connected to the national grid by September 30th.  

Energy generated by the turbine will be sold into the national grid through the Feed in Tariff scheme, and will provide around £80,000 for the local communities of South Shawbost, Dalmore and Dalbeg. The Horshader Community Trust was established in 2005 to plan, build and run the community turbine. A number of consultations have been held with the local community, including a ‘have your say day’ and a door-to-door survey, to plan how to best spend money raised by the turbine for community benefit. 

The project created its first job in January of this year, with the Horshader Community Trust appointing Angela Macleod as development officer to ensure that the funds generated by the turbine are distributed according to the outcomes identified by the local community. Ms Macleod said: ‘It is all systems go now.  Foundations works are complete on site and we have the road access established.  The site has one of the best possible wind resources in the UK and will help fund our community needs to improve life here for the next generation and hopefully reduce depopulation.’

The project initially began with a proposal from private developers, who were seeking to install a 4.2 megawatt scheme on commonly owned croft grazing ground. However, negotiations with the developer fell through: ‘we realized that the community were not going to get the best deal. So we looked into turning it from a private project, to a community one.’ Says Gordon MacLennan, chairman of the Trust’s trading subsidiary.  Speaking about some initial challenges they faced, MacLennan, adds ‘Historically, in the western isles, things have been taken away from the islands, not put back, so I think people were a little skeptical at first.’  

Community Energy Scotland, a Scottish charity dedicated to supporting communities to develop renewable energy projects, then assisted the community with support and funding to enable them to take on the project themselves. The total cost of the project was around £2 million pounds. The community received a £1.8 million loan from the Co-op bank and grant funding from the Big Lottery fund, Highlands and Islands enterprise and the Scottish Government’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES). The latter two were managed through Community Energy Scotland. 

 Kathleen MacDonald, Community Energy Scotland’s development officer for the western Isles said: ‘The Horshader project has overcome many a hurdle to get to this stage and is something the group should be extremely proud of. The early and consistent funding support from HIE has been vital to the success of projects such as Horshader, along with the group’s determination. CES have enjoyed working with the group throughout this time and look forward to continuing this support over the coming months.’

David Wright, chairman of the Horshader Community Trust added: ‘This is a massive achievement for the trust, it has been a long hard road with many difficulties, we were the first community in the Western Isles to start work on a wind project and it is only fitting that we will now have the very first community owned revenue generating wind energy scheme.’ 

Many members of the local community came out to watch the installation of the turbine, with Chris Mayers, resident of the neighboring village of Carloway concluding ‘Why isn’t every community doing this?’