Harnessing wind power for the benefit of all

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A firm direction of wide community benefit is set to be realised when the latest wind farm project at Beinn Ghrideag in Sandwick comes online.

Plans for the three-turbine project took on a more solid shape last week when backers of the initiative were invited by Point and Sandwick Development Trust - the driving force behind the wind farm - to learn about how the scheme will directly benefit islanders.

The wind farm will one of the largest community-owned wind farms in Britain with 100 per cent of its profits plowed back into the local area when it starts to produce electricity for the grid early in 2015.

The estimated power generation of 9MW will be enough to support the needs of 6,000 homes and earn around £1 million annually in net profit by year eight or nine of the wind farm’s 25 year 
lifespan.

The Trust, which has charitable status, is determined that this profit will be invested in the development of the whole of the Western Isles and not just in the communities of Point and Sandwick, with the philosophy being that the whole of the islands’ community should benefit.

This is certainly seen in their current ‘community plan’ with a commitment to give £20,000 annually to much-loved local charity Bethesda Care Home and Hospice.

Talking about the creation and development of this plan Point and Sandwick Chairman, Donald John MacSween, explained: “We wanted the Community Plan to reflect people’s aspirations, needs and priorities for local investment.

“The three turbines at Beinn Ghrideag could generate up to £1 million a year and it is important that we use it effectively to support local good causes and sustainable local jobs.”

“We have consulted with the community in Point and Sandwick, and the wider Western Isles community, in a variety of ways, including public meetings, household surveys, meetings with local voluntary groups and charities, and an online survey.

“We have also listened to the views of the next generation by carrying out a special survey at Sgoil an Rubha and at Sandwick schools before the end of the summer term.”

Other projects being considered as part of the community plan are working with Tighean Innse Gall and The Energy Advice Service (TEAS) to ensure that people get good, practical advice about insulation and energy savings.

There would also be help to install more energy efficient products, from better insulation, or even just switching from outdated standard light bulbs to the better performing and money-saving LED versions - a switch that would save householders 90% on their lighting costs each year.

This sort of support could help a large swathe of residents across the Western Isles, where the fuel poverty level (determined as spending more than 10% of income on fuel) sits at 53%, an abysmal level when compared to the rest of the country which has levels at around 28%.

Another project in the running to benefit from the new community windfarm is the Hebrides Alpha project.

It aims to provide relief for and advance the health, education and development of persons in need in the Western Isles due to having been seriously disadvantaged by social, family or other problems including alcohol or drugs, family dysfunction or break-up, abuse, bereavement, crime, mental illness or any other negative social influences.

The Hebridean Independent Living and Learning Service (HILLS) will also gain support with funding to provide a life and works skills training program for 100 islanders with special needs over five years.

HILLS will provide training employment support for islanders of school leaving age and above who face significant barriers to employment due to learning difficulties, physical disabilities or mental health problems.

Other projects in the ‘community plan’ include: ‘The Croft Forestry Advisory Service’ to improve the appearance and biodiversity of the environment and help create sustainable livelihoods by creating 500 ha of new woodland on 300 individual crofts in the Western Isles over five years.

There will be support for the An Lanntair Gallery helping it to reduce its reliance on government and lottery funding and helping to make it more financially sustainable and secure.

And backing for the ‘Wood Fuel Domestic Heating Study’, in commissioning a report on the potential for domestic woodfuel heating in the Western Isles.

The range of projects in the community plan certainly shows that every pound earned in the Western Isles will be put to maximum use in the Western Isles, ensuring that this wind farm initiative not only makes good business sense but also good social sense.

Pictured Bethesda Care Home and Hospice will benefit to the tune of £20,000 per annum.