Over the past year, I seem to have developed an acute ability to spot wind turbines across our landscape. This has become a slight distraction to my family with much rolling of eyes from my kids as I list the positive benefits of wind energy. Its my job to know about this sort of stuff but maybe I should take some time out at weekends! It’s all because of Kenly Wind farm, part of the University’s plan to reduce carbon emissions and try to take more control of our own energy generation. If we don’t do things like this and seek out new ways to create heat and electricity, we stand still and I am not known for standing in one place for very long.
I and my colleagues have been working on the development of a wind farm at Kenly since Dec 2007, talking to neighbours, local residents and landowners about our idea for a community wind farm but in the past year, preparing for the application and doing all the environmental impact assessment work and then submitting a planning application it has all started to become a bit more real. It has been good to get all this work done, 5 volumes of an environmental statement is like doing a PhD, its easy at the start and then turns into hard work with a huge amount of emotional energy expended. There are lots of issues to be addressed and the impact of each environmental aspect rigorously tested but now it is in the safe hands of the planners at Fife Council (greenest Council in Scotland you know). So my focus now is on trying to navigate the murky waters of the planning process. Statutory consultees, whose duty it is to assess the application have all indicated that the application is materially sound from a planning point of view. Landscape impact is perhaps the biggest issue but since the statutory bodies that are charged with stewardship of Scotland’s landscape and cultural heritage (Scottish Natural Heritage and Historic Scotland) have both not objected and this is a major endorsement for Kenly. Yes the wind turbines will be a new feature on the landscape but this is in the same way as the many polytunnels or agricultural sheds that are needed to make the countryside viable in economic and social terms. I suppose one of the most important things for folk to understand is that this is the University doing this, not a commercial developer. At a stroke, in a typical year, we ensure that we will produce more electricity than we use from the national grid. Another way of looking at it is that we reduce our energy carbon emissions by 18,000 tonnes per annum or 70% of our annual energy consumption. We take control of a large slice of our energy needs. Our price for energy is more predictable and less subject to market forces. The money invested in the wind farm stays in this area and doesn’t leave Scotland.
The University has owned the land for centuries and we want the community to benefit and remain committed to that aspect. We want to be able invest in the community both financially through a community development trust but also by looking at things like improving the pathways that cross the farmland, by considering ways to improve cycle links between St Andrews and the farmland or creating a learning space in some of the converted farm buildings at Kenly.
So its gravy all the way then right? Eh, not quite, our friends at RAF Leuchars (Ministry of Defence, MOD) have objected because radar and twirling wind turbine blades don’t mix. So far they are the only statutory body to object and this is despite the fact that the airbase is supposed to be shutting and changing into an army barracks. No more noisy jets flying round and round – ahh. So maybe the radar will still be needed, maybe it wont. Thing is, the MOD wont tell us that so we have to provide another radar infill just in case. More work and expense but we soldier on (dodgy pun, apols).
My Kenly journey continues and if I was asked if I would do this all again, the answer is yes. My job is interesting, that’s for sure. I have learnt a lot along the way. I know how to develop wind farms so that’s useful. I also now know how passionate people are about landscape change and wind turbines. I have learnt how talking to folk is best. More recently its been fascinating to see how the University community is starting to engage with energy issues and the views that are coming across. Speaking of views, I think I have just spotted another turbine out my window…..!