North Yell project could realise £1.7 million a year for community


North Yell Development Council (NYDC) held an open day in the Cullivoe Hall recently to explain plans for a wind farm in North Yell.

To get to where the project is are now has been a long drawn out process and one can only admire the determination and the mammoth amount of hard work undertaken by the volunteers who are members of the NYDC.

The intention is to build five wind turbines on the ridge of the hill between Gutcher and Cullivoe and to the west of the main road. There are no roads or houses anywhere near the site and an access road will have to be constructed to carry heavy trucks and cranes. It will leave the main road from the Hillhead area of Gutcher.

This is not the shortest possible route but it has been chosen because it is the flattest way and it will cause the least amount of peat disturbance. Of course the distance that underground cables have to go to connect to the grid is a factor too.

To be in a position to apply for planning permission a formidable number of impact studies have been commissioned. Impact on wildlife is of prime importance and Andy Gear, who has spent a lifetime studying native birds, was asked to assess the danger to birds, especially the rain geese. This he did over a two-year period and his conclusion is that the danger is small.

During his observations only three rain geese flew into the danger zone and Mr Gear estimates that one rain goose might be killed every 10 or 11 years. Two pairs of bonxies nest in the area and the danger to them is somewhat greater. Terry Holmes did an otter impact study and concluded that otters have nothing to worry about.

Much thought has been given to the question of Co2 emissions. The attraction of wind energy is that it is clean and green but on the other hand disturbed peat, when it is allowed to dry out, gives off Co2. Drawn into the plans here is a way of channelling the ditch water from the road back into the moor to minimise emissions.

The expert assessment is that the “carbon payback time”, as it is called, will be a very acceptable 25 months. This assumes that peat will dry out for 20 metres at each side of the road. Another peat issue is the potential for landslides and this risk has been assessed following Scottish Government guidelines.

The impact of noise from the turbines has also been studied. By coincidence Andy and Wendy Gear’s home is one of the two nearest houses to the site and recording equipment has monitored probable noise levels.

Jenny Taylor, from Orkney, was commissioned to assess the visual impact. She travelled to archaeological sites and visitor attractions in Fetlar and Unst as well as Yell. Mock-up photos show how the development will look from a great many different places.

All through this long period of assessment monitoring equipment has been in place to examine the likely efficiency of the site. Wind turbines here will produce electricity for an estimated 52 per cent of the time. The same machines in central Scotland would be productive 35 per cent of the time but in Denmark this figure would be down to 25 per cent. To be conservative and safe the figure for North Yell has been rounded down to 46 per cent.

This project will cost £6 million to set up and it will be community-owned. In this case the community is from the head of Bastavoe and north. When NYDC was established in the aftermath of World War Two this was the defined catchments area and this has never changed.

The money required will be borrowed and no individual will be allowed to invest in the project. This is to ensure that every member of the community will benefit equally. As with all other aspects of the project expert financial assessment is available to NYDC. Connected to the national grid the windfarm would have the potential to make gross annual earnings of the order of £1.7 million, giving a lucrative profit to direct towards community development.

The local grid already has about as much renewable energy as it can cope with but NYDC secretary Andrew Nisbet said they had a number of alternatives if it proved impossible to sell electricity to the national grid.

One of those ideas is to consider the provision a district-heating scheme to cover all of the North Isles. Each subscriber would have a large tank beside their property for the storage of hot water that can be used for central heating.

The open day was well attended and the Cullivoe Hall clubroom was arrayed all the way around with a bewildering mass of plans and booklets that have been painstakingly put together by volunteers covering all aspects of the project.

Twelve copies of EIA and 14 copies of plans have been submitted to the SIC planning department for approval or otherwise. The developers have already displayed great patience and much more of the same will be required before the windmills are turning productively.


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