Power to (and for) the people

THE IDEA

  • Scottish farmer says “no” to developer and instead goes into the power business himself
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WHY IT MATTERS

  • Money from the power project helps keep a local farmer on the land
  • Investment from the community helps support local infrastructure projects
  • Less diesel = less pollution 

WHAT’S NEXT

  • The project is being replicated across Scotland, and serves as a template for other community-based green power projects.
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Imagine you’re a farmer. Being outdoors, working the land—you love it. But the business side is tough. You’re hanging on, paying the mortgage, keeping the lights on. But not by much. And getting ahead? That seems like a long, long way away.

One day, a guy in a suit knocks on your door. He looks around and tells you he wants to drill for oil. Or maybe it’s gold. Or maybe it’s buried pirate treasure. Doesn’t matter. He offers you a bunch of money in rent every month so he can do it. You can’t believe your luck. So you shake hands, suit guy cuts you a cheque, and puts in a pump.

Fast forward a few years, and things are looking up. The rent you’ve collected has helped out. It’s allowed you to get your head above water, pay down debt, and flush a lot of the financial stress you used to feel. This is a tough business, and every little bit helps.

But over there on the back field, suit guy has been digging and pumping day and night. He’s made a gajillion dollars.

You wonder to yourself: did you make the right decision?

That was the question facing Scottish farmer Andrew Stewart a little over four years ago. A developer approached him with an offer to put a wind turbine on his 700-acre barley and livestock farm. But instead of accepting the poor lease rates being offered by the developer, Stewart went into the power business.

It’s not a small project: three windmills with an estimated output of 8,600 MWh—enough to energize perhaps 4,000-5,000 homes for a year depending on your assumptions. From a financial perspective, total expenditure is around 8-million pounds ($15-million CAD). The community kicked in 1.6-million of that, with STewart securing financing for the rest. Payback is expected to be about eight years—not bad.

Here at FuturePlanet, we believe wind power is the future—we’re all in. But this story is about something bigger. And that is individual empowerment (pardon the pun). It’s a story about the proverbial little guy—and the local community—taking back financial independence from larger-scale power utilities.

It also makes smaller-scale farming a lot more economically viable. To get the same return from three wind turbines, the Stewart farm would have to triple their number of dairy cows, plant 4,000 additional acres of wheat, or sell 23,000 lambs every year. Obviously, that’d take a whole lot more land than the 3 acres the turbines take up.

That’s a big deal. With a little support from his wind turbines, Mr. Stewart can invest more in his farm. Which helps out the earth in a lot of ways.

Don’t get us wrong here: in the fight to build a better future, corporations, private-public partnerships, utilities, and other financial arrangements all have a role to play. And economic scale will be vitally important for wind and other green energy projects, just as it is in any other business. In this respect, we support it however it happens.

But there’s something to be said for community, too. Local business, local investment, local decision-making, local power generation. All these things count for something. And in the push for green energy, it’s good to see there’s a way to bring power (and profits) to the people at the local level, not just shareholders.

GO DEEPER:

Learn more about renewable development initiative
And on the Marshill farm itself (includes two PDF reports)


WHAT DO YOU THINK