Totnes Community Wind Farm: no regrets

The founder members of the Totnes Renewable Energy Society were, and still are, an ambitious bunch of people.  The sheer scale of the challenges of dealing with climate change and fossil fuel depletion demand big solutions.  Nor can the laws of physics be denied, and the simple fact is that wind turbines offer the most abundant and cost effective source of renewable energy available to us.  

Finding suitable sites for wind turbines that meet planning and commercial criteria is a specialist job and a very great deal of professional expertise is needed to prepare a planning application.  And so, in 2008, soon after the formation of the Society in 2007, we contacted Dorset based wind developer, Infinergy, to ask if they would be interested to work with a local community owned renewable energy society to explore the possibility of wind power for Totnes and the surrounding parishes.

When Infinergy ran their wind prospecting software they found, as other wind developers have found before them; that the best local site for wind development, taking all planning criteria into account, is at Luscombe Cross.  There followed 18 months of careful and confidential negotiation with the Agent before all agreements were signed and the first TRESOC share issue was launched in 2010.  

Infinergy confirmed that, taking all planning criteria into consideration it was the best site for wind development. It has been a 6 year journey of discovery and steep learning curves for everyone involved.  From the first desktop studies to find the best site for a wind turbine, contacting the land agent, negotiating legal agreements and preparing the planning application.  We are rightly proud of the quality of the work that was done by TRESOC working in close partnership with a highly skilled and well-motivated team of wind development professionals.  Sir Jonathan Porritt, in his letter of support, describes the Totnes Community Wind Farm Planning Application as “one of the best designed and well supported applications we have seen”  Not good enough though for the local planning authority who turned it down on the grounds of the view.  We had steeled ourselves for rejection by the local authority but were not prepared Infinergy’s decision not to appeal.

The choice to develop a large scale wind energy as the first project amongst our portfolio was a conscious choice. It remains the most cost-effective way of generating renewable energy and we had identified the best suitable site in our locality with the help of the developer. This was an excellent investment opportunity for our members and would be a significant generator locally. 

The substantial public engagement that we provided raised the profile of the development locally. With the benefit of hindsight, this unintentionally hindered the project, as it enabled local opposition to organise and gain strength earlier than in a normal planning application. However we don’t believe that this should have been done in a different way. The whole point of community renewable energy is to engage the local population and increase awareness whilst providing social and financial benefits.

Totnes Community wind farm has given us a good degree of experience from which we have learnt from. We want the embryonic community energy industry to gain from our insights, so if you have any questions please get in touch.

Ian Bright
Managing Director

View the Totnes Community Wind Farm project on our website.

Windfarms – “pros and antis: it’s disconcerting how decent they all seem…”

Last Friday TRESOC held a Christmas party in the civic hall in Totnes. Updating our members on our numerous projects, we then continued to the OSTAS – where TRESOC awarded specific members for their commitment by giving them a trophy of huge significance – a cabbage (Savoy, if you’re interested). Then wine and cheese to end evening.
I was having a discussion with one of the lucky winners – Dan Findlay – about our flagship project -Totnes Community Wind Farm (TCWF). One of the key aspects that seems to surround onshore wind projects, is the divisions it can create in the community – as well as the Government. This reminded me of an article I had read the previous week on the issue, which struck a chord:

“Pros and antis: it is disconcerting how decent they all seem……. Vexingly, the two sides of this debate do not organise neatly along opposite straits: it’s not as though the antis are fighting for the landscape, while the pros are fighting for the economy. Everyone’s a conservationist; everyone’s trying to secure a long-term energy future……”


These observations have become more and more obvious to me, after the talking to people on both sides during the past year. Both sides agree on a lot of things other than onshore wind, and often have the same priorities and motivations. It is quite ridiculous – I don’t fall out with my friends because they use an Apple Mac computer rather than a PC to blog. The one difference is amplified, whereas the similarities are acoustic whispers. This is the case in many issues that trouble society, including the debate surrounding onshore wind. So when there are headlines from the media claiming a ‘broken community’ due to TCWF, I am perplexed. Why should neighbours that have been friendly for decades, fall out over one issue they disagree on? They didn’t agree on everything before.

Clearly it’s a highly emotive issue, that touches the core of what we value, and often, becomes part of our identity. So when disagreements occur they are undeniably personal. People are genuinely worried and concerned about their standard of life. But, there needs to be some sense of proportion. Our sense of community and neighbourliness is of more value than any one issue.

We all want a viable future for our fragile environment and society. When we look objectively at the problem of securing our low carbon energy future locally, we simply cannot afford to ignore our cheapest and most widely available resource – onshore wind.

We need to acknowledge the many similarities between the opposing sides, and also the difficulties people are experiencing, in order to have better conversations. I think this quote from the same article sums up some of my sentiments:

“We are still the Saudi Arabia of wind, but you have to imagine us as an oil-rich country with a very strong objection to the extraction of oil, for reasons that are absolutely self-evident to half our parliament (and our communities) and totally obscure to the other half.”

The scale of Totnes Community Wind Farm

I recently posted a response to the question raised by some opposing Totnes Community Wind Farm (TCWF) on Sarah Wollastons’ (MP) website:

“I’m glad the issue of scale has been raised. They are large to produce as much renewable energy as possible. It would take 92 turbines of the size proposed at Foales Leigh (50kW – 46m to tip) to produce as much as the two turbines in our proposal (at max. capacity – not taking into account a lower capacity factor).Surely the cumulative impact (noise, energy, landscape) of that number is much larger?
This also serves to show the huge loss of generation when reducing the size of the turbine – half the height but only 2.2% of the capacity (compared with one 2.3MW turbine).  They are connected to the national grid because of the large amount of electricity produced – so it can go where the demand is. At present there is no other alternative local grid available. The scale of the community chosen – Totnes and its environs – was so that the necessary investment, skills and resources could be sourced. At a village scale it simply wouldn’t be possible to carry out a development of this size – £6million, 4.6MW – enough for 2500 homes.” 

I hope this contains some insight for those involved in the conversation. I certainly learned something during the process.

Olly Frankland.