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 the best site for wind developmentIt 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.