from The Herald, 01 May 2012
A pioneering plan for Scotland’s first ‘people power’ wind turbine in an urban area has been blocked by Scottish Water because of an insurance hitch, undermining ministers’ attempts to boost locally-owned renewable energy developments.
The voluntary groups proposing to build a large wind turbine at Seafield sewage works in Leith, Edinburgh, are furious that they have been thwarted by the government-owned company, despite having already received backing from the Scottish government and from the private sector.
They are now demanding that ministers step in and order Scottish Water to find a way of enabling the turbine to be built. “We are bitterly disappointed to have got this far only for the project to be stalled on what looks like a technicality,” said Charlotte Encombe, chair of the Greener Leith group.
“We are exploring every available option to resolve this impasse, and will not give up on the project yet. We owe it to the thousands of supporters who voted for us, the hundreds of local people who will benefit and our project funders to try to find a way to break the deadlock.”
Greener Leith, along with the neighbouring group, Portobello Transition Town, proposed building a turbine to be owned and run for the benefit of local people three years ago. Experts identified Seafield sewage works as the best site, and all the funding is now in place to make a planning application.
Last year the project won funding from British Gas’s Energyshare, after receiving the most votes from the British public in a competition. It has also been supported by the Scottish government, which is aiming to triple the amount of electricity generated by locally-owned renewables by 2020.
But negotiations over the use of the Seafield site have broken down because Scottish Water as landowner has refused to accept liability in case of an accident. It is understood that Veolia, the £20 billion French multinational that runs the works under a controversial Private Finance Initiative contract, demanded insurance cover should the turbine fall over and damage sewage tanks.
“We are particularly frustrated that Scottish Water has taken a whole year to identify these issues, during which a huge number of volunteer hours have been put into the project,” said Eva Schonveld, chair of Portobello Transition Town.
“It seems extraordinary that dozens of wind turbines operate without incident on sewage works around the world, but this cannot be done on public land in Edinburgh.”
Community-owned turbines have been built on the islands of Westray, Gigha, and South Uist, as well as in the village of Fintry in Stirlingshire. There are none so far in cities or towns, but there are fears that they could be hit by similar problems as at Seafield.
Georgy Davis of Community Energy Scotland, which represents people-owned renewable projects, warned that issues with insurance in urban areas could increase. This could “potentially hamper the Scottish government’s ability to achieve its targets for renewables in general and community renewables in particular,” she said.
A new study due out this week by the Sustainable Community Energy Network in Edinburgh will reveal that 15% of the renewable energy projects proposed by local groups stall before planning starts. It will examine the reasons why this happens.
Scottish Water pointed out that the proposed wind turbine was going to be between 80 and 125 metres high, and that the Seafield works was a “highly strategic asset” which treated all Edinburgh’s sewage.
Generating renewable energy was a “key priority” for Scottish Water, said a company spokesman. “We have engaged in a positive manner with these groups over a number of months in relation to this project,” he added.
“However, as a result of the potential risks and associated liabilities which such a venture may have presented to Scottish Water it has, regretfully, not proved possible to reach a mutually acceptable agreement with all the relevant parties.”
The Scottish government said it was currently investigating the options available to the community groups, and would provide a comprehensive response in due course. “The Scottish government is determined to ensure communities all over Scotland reap the benefit from renewable energy,” said a government spokeswoman.