New community wind farm will be first in UK to fund new homes for social rent

(from left) Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Helen Forsyth of BHA and Nicholas Gubbins of Community Energy Scotland. Photo credit Tara Grey
(from left) Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Helen Forsyth of BHA and Nicholas Gubbins of Community Energy Scotland. Photo credit Tara Grey.

A new wind farm in the Scottish Borders which will create enough revenue for Berwickshire Housing Association (BHA) to build 500 new homes over the next 25 years was officially launched yesterday.

The Hoprigshiels community wind farm, the first in UK to be developed by a housing association as a means of funding new homes for social rent, was launched and named by Paul Wheelhouse MSP, minister for business, innovation and energy.

Named ‘Fishermen Three’, the wind farm is located near Cockburnspath in the Scottish Borders and is a joint venture between Berwickshire Housing Association (BHA) and Community Energy Scotland.

By supplying energy to the National Grid, the wind farm will create revenue for BHA of around £20 million over the next 25 years – enough to allow them to build 500 new homes over that period.

Community Energy Scotland’s £10m share of the revenue will enable it to support communities across the country to develop and benefit from renewable energy projects and play a crucial part in building a greener energy system.

The 3-turbine scheme will have an installed capacity of 7.5MW and will export just under 25 million kilowatt-hours each year - enough energy to power around 5,900 households. As wind power is one of the most established and cost-effective forms of renewable energy generation, Hoprigshiels will also save 12,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year, helping play a small but significant part in the global fight against climate change.

The wind farm project has been supported by two main funders, Triodos Bank and the Renewable Energy Investment Fund (REIF).

REIF is delivered by the Scottish Investment Bank – the investment arm of Scottish Enterprise – on behalf of the Scottish Government and its Enterprise Agencies.

Helen Forsyth, chief executive of Berwickshire Housing Association, said: “The idea for the wind farm came when BHA realised that we had to be innovative in order to solve the dilemma of how to keep building new homes for social rental, which are so badly needed in this area, at a time when funding for new housing through traditional channels was in decline. The wind farm will provide BHA with a reliable, predictable, low maintenance source of income that will allow us to build a steady stream of new affordable homes at a time when services are all too often being cut.”

She added: “This is not our only application of renewable energy; it is part of a whole approach and attitude at BHA that includes fitting 700 homes with PV solar panels and investing in new heating systems that reduce fuel bills for our tenants.”

Paul Wheelhouse said: “The newly re-named Fishermen Three wind farm at Hoprigshiels is an exciting project that very ably illustrates our vision of local people benefiting from renewable energy projects installed in their area.

“As someone who lived in the local fishing community of Cove for five years, I love the new link to area’s fishing heritage, and I have also been well aware of Berwickshire Housing Association’s ambitions to develop the wind farm for many years, so I congratulate Helen Forsyth and the BHA team, and Community Energy Scotland, for achieving the successful delivery of this important project.

“The wind farm should generate around £30m of revenues over the next 25 years,‎ strengthening BHA’s finances and enabling them to build 500 much-needed, additional new homes‎ across Berwickshire to meet strong housing demand in the area. It is because of the investment opportunities that projects such as this can create that Scottish Government continues to invest in‎ community renewable energy projects across the country through REIF, with support from Community Energy Scotland.

“As this project shows, locally-owned renewables in areas such as the Borders have the potential to help drive social, economic and environmental change at a local level through investment in essential community infrastructure. I am delighted that there are more than 500 MW of community and locally owned projects that have already been developed in Scotland, and today sees a further 7.5 MW added to that figure, but we want to do much more and that is why our draft Energy Strategy contains a target of raising this total to 1GW by 2020 and, by 2030, to double that yet again to 2GW.”

Nicholas Gubbins, chief executive of Community Energy Scotland, added: “In recent years we have helped hundreds of community groups to take forward green energy projects but like many charities we struggle to cover our own costs. We are delighted to have been able to work in partnership with BHA to develop our own joint project. The UK energy system is changing and we want to make sure that communities are at the forefront of the opportunities that this will create for new, low carbon energy developments.

“This project will help us to do this, whilst providing an initial community benefit payment of £37,500 per year which will go to the communities closest to the wind farm site, to be spent on whatever they identify as their priorities.”

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