Sunday, March 6, 2011

Community owned wind farms tackling climate change

Concrete pour 2: turbine 1
Photo: Concrete Pour for turbine 1 at Leonard's Hill © Hepburn Wind

While Governments and business have been slow to progress action on climate change some communities are putting their money into action by financing and establishing community owned and operated utility scale wind farms. Hepburn Wind is arguably the first Australian community owned wind farm located at Leonards Hill, near the town of Daylesford in central Victoria. When completed this year its two wind turbines, each producing 2 megawatts power for the grid, will supply enough for 2,300 homes, most of the demand generated in the Daylesford and Hepburn Springs area.


Initial discussions and planning for the community owned Hepburn Wind Farm started in 2005, but ran into some issues raising the $20 million finance capital from the community as the Global Financial Crisis hit. A bank loan secured the final financial security for the project to proceed, and orders were placed for the turbines, nacelles and blades from RePower AG in Germany. Nearly 1600 people have chosen to invest in this community owned resource, which will provide carbon free energy and return dividends over the life of the project to community investors and also fund assistance to local community projects.

Construction at the Leonards Hill site started on 8 October, 2010. Foundations for the two turbines were poured in January and early February, while the towers were being fabricated by Keppel Price Engineering in Portland, Victoria. Keppel Engineering is now the largest manufacturer of wind turbine towers in the country. The tower manufacturing division currently employs 150 jobs, and with several wind farms entering a construction phase business is booming.

For several weeks REpower has had a Quality Assurance Inspector based at Keppel Price Engineering ensuring the towers are built to the strict standard and specifications to accommodate the precision engineering and weight of the wind turbines and blades at the top of the tower.



Last week 239 tons of cargo from REpower in Germany, comprising 2 nacelles, 2 hubs, 6 blades and a container of support equipment was unloaded at Appleton dock from the cargo ship 'SE Panthea'. The turbines will undergo inspection and possible modification to ensure they fully comply with Australian standards before travelling to Leonards Hill for installation.

It won't be long before the residents of Daylesford will be drawing green wind power to replace some of the demand from the large CO2 polluting brown coal power stations in the La Trobe valley.

Other community owned wind farm projects in Australia include the Denmark Community Windfarm in Western Australia initiated in 2003 and slowly progressing to construction phase. The Mount Barker wind farm, also in the south western corner of Western Australia, is currently under construction and is 70 per cent owned by the great southern community. It will consist of 3 turbines each with a capacity of 0.8MW and will produce enough energy to power homes in Mount Barker.

In New South Wales 70 residents met at the Armidale Town Hall on 1st March to consider the merits of a community-owned wind farm for the New England region.

"Local electricity generation was a strong priority identified by the community', said Adam Blakester, Coordinator of New England Wind. "Their view was that a community wind farm would need to contribute towards a sub-grid for the New England which gave us more control and security over our own electricity ~ both its cost and its reliability."

More community forums are planned at the Uralla Community Centre at 6pm on Wednesday 9 March and Kyabra at 10am on 23 March.

While community owned wind farms are relatively new in Australia, in Denmark 75% of wind power is produced by turbines owned by local associations and individuals.

Sources
* Hepburn Wind
* Denmark Community Windfarm (WA)
* Wind power and wind farms in Australia
* Starfish Enterprises Network - Seeing the Winds of Change