Concrete for the foundations is poured for England’s biggest onshore wind turbine and it is community owned!
Ambition Community Energy CIC (ACE), an offshoot of Ambition Lawrence Weston, a community-based charity in Bristol, has reached an important milestone. It has completed the electrical and civil engineering work needed to build England’s largest onshore wind turbine. The turbine is on its way from three factories in Europe and it will be operating in spring 2023. The total cost of development and construction is £6 million.
ACE secured senior debt funding from Thrive Renewables in April 2022. It was added to other loan funds from Bristol and Bath Regional Capital (BBRC), Bristol “City Funds” and some members of the Society of Merchant Venturers, and a grant from the West of England Combined Authority (Local Energy Scheme which is funded through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)). ACE reached its investment target following receipt of planning permission in July 2020 and the signing of a lease for the plot of land in November 2021.
Development of the turbine project has been a long process. It began in 2016, following Bristol’s year as European Green Capital in 2015. It obtained its early funding from the DECC Urban Community Energy Fund, Bristol City Council (BCC), and Power to Change. That initial funding was followed by contingent development loans from Bristol Community Energy Fund (via BCC/Power to Change /BBRC/City Funds). A determined effort was needed from the ACE team to overcome several procedural hurdles. First they had to gain planning permission; strong arguments were advanced on both sides and even the Planning Officers seemed to see it as a finely balanced decision, so that it was a great relief when the planning committee voted unanimously in favour. Then there was the government’s removal of subsidies to onshore wind of less than 5MW, which persists until today and, finally, the introduction of the Written Ministerial Statement 2015 which has been an effective ban on development of new onshore wind for most developers. This project has been developed in spite of government policy rather than because of it! Alongside these financial, planning challenges there have been numerous environmental and engineering challenges which is why any additional unnecessary barriers to obtaining planning have led to an effective ban onshore wind to date.
At 150m tall with 4.2MW capacity, the ACE turbine has two remarkable characteristics: it is England’s biggest onshore turbine and it is 100% community-owned. The turbine will generate electricity equivalent to Lawrence Weston’s domestic use, around 3,000 homes, and save 120,000 tonnes of CO2e over its lifetime. ACE estimates that about £100,000 a year could be provided as a donation to be invested back into the local community. Funds are expected to help fund a development plan for Lawrence Weston and to contribute to a new £1.7 million community hub for the area, which will provide support, training and debt advice to local residents.
For communities to succeed in the future with new onshore wind projects the development finance needs to be made available to allow them to explore sites with local authorities & regional hubs supporting access to land, with the local DSO and National Grid providing access for large onshore wind turbines (above 1 MW connections), and the national planning system need to assist communities and not frustrate them. Bristol Energy Network which Ambition Lawrence Weston is a member of hopes to replicate the success of Ambition Community Energy C.I.C. project in 2023 with their Sustainable Innovative Financial Foundations for Wind Turbines project which has been awarded conditional funding from the West of England Combined Authority’s Green Recovery Fund. This new project along with regulatory changes by the government is hoped to be a new beginning, a “Renaissance of onshore wind” led with communities actively participating in a new smart local energy system.