Portobello & Leith Community Wind Energy Project – Frequently Asked Questions

8th November 2011

What are you proposing?

Two community-led, not-for-private-profit organisations, PEDAL – Portobello Transition Town and Greener Leith, are proposing to develop a commercial scale wind turbine on land at Seafield Waste Water Treatment Works, Marine Esplanade, Edinburgh. The site is on the border between Leith, Portobello and Craigentinny Community Council areas. The wind turbine will generate electricity for sale to landowners Scottish Water or to the National Grid. If successful, this will be the first community owned income-generating wind turbine in a UK city.

Why are you proposing to install only one turbine?

A single wind turbine is proposed at vacant land next to the Final Settlement Tanks at Seafield Waste Water Treatment Works. Our consultants have surveyed the site and concluded that this is the best location for a wind turbine in the area. They have also concluded there is only room for one large turbine at this location, due to operational use of the rest of the site.

How big will the turbine be?

A range of sizes are being considered, but the turbine would be from 80 to 125 metres high (from the foot of the tower to the tip of upright blade) with a rated capacity of between 500 and 2,300 kW. By comparison, the Cockenzie Power Station chimneys are 149 metres high.

How will you choose what size of turbine to put up?

The size of turbine chosen depends on the views of the City of Edinburgh Council as planning authority and statutory consultees like Scottish Natural Heritage and Historic Scotland. It also very much depends on the response from the local community: would you rather see a larger turbine saving bigger amounts of CO2 and providing greater investment in the local community, or a smaller turbine and more modest CO2 savings and community funding? We’re all local residents, so we want to listen to as many local opinions as we can.

How much electricity might it produce?

The wind turbine is expected to produce between 1 million and 4.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year, the annual electricity usage of 300 to 1300 average homes in Edinburgh.

Is the site windy enough?

Meteorological databases show the site is likely to have enough wind to make a large turbine viable. We have carried out an initial three months of wind monitoring, however we require data over a longer period (around 12 months in total) before we can get a firm idea of the likely wind resource at the site.

How will you get permission to put it on the site?

Seafield Waste Water Treatment works process the waste water for around 900,000 people in the city of Edinburgh and surrounding area. Stirling Water Seafield, the site operators, and Scottish Water, who own the land, have been helpful in assisting this community project to-date. PEDAL and Greener Leith are in detailed discussions with these organisations with a view to gaining exclusive access to the site to develop the wind turbine. We are hopeful that agreements will be concluded soon.

What stage is the project at?

Initial technical work has been completed and suggests the site is suitable for a commercial scale wind turbine (one of few potential sites in the Edinburgh area). This work examined site physical and operational constraints, potential for grid connection, health & safety in construction and operation, flooding risk, potential turbine delivery routes, and likely impacts on radio communications, television signals, aviation, MoD operations, plus shadow flicker and noise levels. Six months of bird surveys have also been completed.

The next stage is to complete a further six months of bird surveys at the site, further wind monitoring work, and a full landscape and visual impact assessment. Planning permission is required from the City of Edinburgh Council — due to the time scales for the remaining studies, this would not be submitted before June 2012.

What benefits would the project bring?

The project would:

  1. Reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation by between 400 to 2000 tonnes per year over the 25-year life of the turbine. The precise amount will depend on the final size of machine chosen.
  2. Result in a community owned project generating significant funds for local community initiatives. Initial estimates by our consultants are that surpluses totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds could be generated over the 25-year life of the turbine.
  3. Be a visible statement of local sustainability, showing our communities are committed to playing their part in tackling global problems and becoming more self-sufficient places to live and work in.
  4. Provide opportunities for inspiration and education, for local people (including school pupils) and groups from elsewhere.

What would you do with the surpluses?

That’s very much up to local people: our only suggestion is that 100% of the surpluses (once running costs are paid) should be used to fund community projects in the Portobello, Leith and Craigentinny areas. We have lots of ideas for the kinds of projects that might be funded: improving green space, insulating people’s houses, better cycle-paths, social enterprises, job creation schemes, and educational projects are just a few. But we want to hear your views: what would you like to see the money invested in? We’re planning an extensive consultation with local people to find out what their priorities are: more details will be announced soon.

What’s the timescale for the project?

We’ve already completed the initial feasibility work, but we need to do more studies and we also need to gather lots more local views on the project and what people want to see it achieve. To identify a precise wind resource we need to put up a temporary meteorological mast on the site. The decision on whether or not to take the project forward to planning submission is likely to be made by May 2012; the planning application for the turbine itself would be submitted around June 2012 and, if approved, the turbine should hopefully be up and running in summer 2013.

Who is supporting the project?

The project has been supported from the start by Community Energy Scotland who provide technical advice and administer Scottish Government funding for community-led renewable energy projects. They provided a grant to pay for our initial feasibility work and recently offered us a loan towards 90% of the further work we need to do before we can apply for planning permission. We have also received a small grant from Portobello & Craigmillar Neighbourhood Partnership towards the costs of consulting local people on the project.

How does the project fit with Scottish Government policy?

The Scottish Government has set a target for 100% of Scotland’s own electricity demand (about 16GW of installed generating capacity) to be generated from renewable resources by 2020. Within this, they have set a target for 500MW of installed capacity (or 3.2% of Scotland’s electricity use) to be generated by community-led schemes. So our project will contribute to that.

Who would buy the electricity, and where would it be used?

The power generated will be sold to either the site owners, Scottish Water, or to a major energy company via the National Grid. Scottish Water could purchase the electricity by offsetting the amount of power the turbine produces against their energy bills; in physical terms the electricity will enter the local distribution system where it would be used within north and east Edinburgh.

Who will own and operate the wind turbine?

Once all relevant permissions (e.g. planning, grid connection) are in place, a new organisation will be formed to own and operate the wind turbine. This organisation will be jointly owned by PEDAL, Greener Leith and – we hope – a community organisation from Craigentinny. The Board of this organisation will comprise volunteers drawn from these organisations. Maintenance of the turbine will be carried out by a professional contractor.

Will the wind turbine be noisy?

Noise produced by wind turbines is typical relatively low. It is quite possible to hold a normal conversation directly below a wind turbine without raising one’s voice, something that cannot be done beside a busy road. Detailed noise assessment work undertaken in consultation with Edinburgh City Council and involving background noise monitoring at nearby homes shows the project would meet relevant noise limits.

How will the wind turbine be paid for?

We anticipate that 80 to 90% of the cost of installing the turbine will come from a bank loan. We will apply for grants and explore the possibility of a community share issue to fund the remainder.

How long is the financial payback?

The cost of constructing the turbine will depend on the final choice of turbine model. The bank loan will be paid off over a period of around ten years so as to allow for a sizeable community fund.

How long is the energy payback?

The energy payback of a modern wind turbine – the time it takes to produce the same energy used to manufacture and install the turbine – is around 6 to 9 months. After that, low carbon energy is produced over the life of the machine, usually 20 – 25 years.

What will the impact be on local views and the landscape generally?

Initial work on the impact of the turbine on local views and Edinburgh’s cityscape more broadly show it will not be visible from most of the Edinburgh World Heritage Site (the city centre). It will be visible from Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat, Craigmillar Castle and Craigentinny. The City Council has asked us to carry out work showing how views from Fife and the East Lothian Coastal footpath will be affected, as well as a detailed study into impacts on Edinburgh’s cultural landscape.

What will the impact be on the local bird population?

The chosen site for the turbine is close to three areas that are of recognised importance for bird populations. We have contracted a professional ornithologist to carry out surveys of the bird population close to the site using methods agreed with Scottish Natural Heritage. Surveys began in April 2011 and must continue for a period of 12 months. Once these are complete, we will be able to assess the possible impact of a turbine on the bird population.

Would shadow flicker be an issue?

The proposed location near the coast means that shadow flicker could only occur at a few nearby houses in the very early mornings over a few hours each summer. Controls will be used if required to ensure shadow flicker is eliminated by slowing the turbine down during these hours.

Will it affect local television, mobile phone or radio reception?

Detailed assessments have been carried out to identify the potential effects on television, mobile phone or radio receptions in the surrounding areas. These show that no effects are likely.

Will it be safe?

In addition to the usual turbine safety systems, we propose a system that would continuously monitor tiny vibrations within the turbine structure. This system is able to identify potential faults before they manifest themselves materially, and so is able to achieve extremely high safety limits. It is effective in monitoring vibrations, crack formation and any build up of ice. The turbine would also lie in the least frequented part of the site and, being close to the sea, icing would be expected to be infrequent.

How can I find out more about the project or show my support?

PEDAL and Greener Leith are keen to keep people involved as the project moves forward. We are planning a series of events, static displays and an on-line survey, where people can find out more, ask for feedback on specific questions and show their support. We also hope to have announcements through local newspapers, radio and TV at key points in the project. For the time being, our websites will continue to provide updates – see www.pedal-porty.org.uk or www.greenerleith.org

You can also sign up to support the project and give us the chance of securing some of the funding needed by registering as a supporter on our Energyshare page at http://tiny.cc/porty-leith-wind

Where can I find out more about wind turbines in general?

You can find out more about the pros and cons of wind turbines at this FAQ website or by downloading the Common Concerns About Wind Turbines report.

3 responses to “Portobello & Leith Community Wind Energy Project – Frequently Asked Questions

  1. “Surveys began in April 2011 and must con­tinue for a period of 12 months. Once these are com­plete, we will be able to assess the pos­sible impact of a tur­bine on the bird population.”

    I wonder whether the ‘professional’ ornithologist, whom you are paying, will tell you how damaging turbines are to birds? What about bats? If you were told how destructive to birds and bats turbines are, would you halt the project? There is plenty of evidence around to show that HAWTs kill bats and birds. Have you considered an (enclosed) VAWT? Have you considered any other more environmentally sensitive alternative?

  2. Good point Peter. The cost of constructing the turbine will very much depend on the final choice of turbine size. Our consultants have said anything between £1M and £3M is a good ballpark estimate for a turbine of between 500KWp and 2,300KWp capacity. We will pay off these costs over a period of ten years so as to allow for a community benefit fund (estimated at anything from £100,000 p.a.). We could pay of the costs sooner (perhaps over 5 years, depending on the price we can secure for the electricity) but that wouldn’t leave anything for local projects in those years. The operating costs will be low (insurance, maintenance checks, taxes, etc) if things go smoothly and will be paid annually over the 25 years lifespan of the turbine.

  3. Dear Pedal,

    In yourFAQS you mention energy feedback but I wonder if also it is important to say what the cost of constructing and operating the turbine will be and the time that it will take to repay this from profit.

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