LONDON — Raising €1.3 million in just thirteen hours, 1700 Dutch households that came together to buy shares in a wind turbine have set a new world record for crowdfunding.
All 6,648 shares in the electricity from the Vestas V80 2-MW wind turbine were sold, at a share price of €200. Each household bought single shares or blocks of shares, with each share corresponding to an output of around 500 kWh/share per year.
The purchase was organised by Windcentrale, a company that facilitates cooperative wind turbine purchases. Windcentrale says it has enabled more than 6,900 Dutch citizens to buy shares in wind turbines, and according to co-founder Harm Reitsma there is a growing list of several thousand people who have expressed interest in future purchase options.
In addition to the purchase price, shareholders will pay a fee of €23 per year for turbine maintenance. Homeowners will be able to monitor wind speeds and electricity production levels in real time using a smartphone app, Windcentrale said.
The turbine is located in Culemborg, in the centre of the Netherlands.
Founded in 2010 by Reitsma and his business partner Anne Janssens, Windcentrale launched its purchasing programme in summer 2012, selling shares in two wind turbines in the northern Netherlands. “It took us four and a half months to find 5,200 households to buy 20,000 shares in those two windmills,” said Reitsma. “This time it took only a few hours. We thought it would be popular, but we never anticipated this enthusiastic reaction. It shows that people really want renewable energy.”
Windcentrale buys turbines that are several years old – the Vestas turbines were made in 2005 – from energy companies, financial institutions and project developers, Reitsma said. “It’s not a big market and turbines are scarce,” he continued. “People who own a wind turbine are generally very happy with it, and not in the market to sell.” Windcentrale acquires its turbines through networking, Reitsma said: “We contact everybody in the wind energy market.”
For each turbine Windcentrale sets up a cooperative, and each cooperative has a separate contract with Vestas, which maintains the turbines. The electricity is sold through energy company Greenchoice, which was founded in 2003 as one of the first green competitors to the major Dutch utilities and now has 350,000 customers, Reitsma said.
At present, Windcentrale is focused on marketing to residential energy consumers. “There are some small businesses, but we are not targeting them yet,” said Reitsma. “But our proposition is at least as interesting for businesses. For a company it is very interesting to know they will not have the disadvantage of increasing [electricity] pricing. Also, in terms of marketing, a company can tell their customers they have their own wind turbine.”
Windcentrale hopes for big things in future. “We started last year with a brand new company. People didn’t know us, so we had to go with slow word of mouth,” Reitsma explained. “Last year was a big success and people started talking about us, and almost every day people filled in our form to hear when the next wind turbine will be available.
“The Netherlands is very slow in adopting renewable energy production,” he said, “far behind our 2020 goals. Almost any report about sustainable energy in the Netherlands has calculated that wind is the cheapest way to produce renewable energy.” But, he said, while “we know we need another three thousand wind turbines in the Netherlands, we also need to balance how people feel about them.
“What I noticed is that many people object to wind turbines because of misinformation,” he continued. “People think they do not produce a lot of electricity or are not rotating very often, or that it costs more energy to make a wind turbine than it will ever produce in its whole life. This is all completely wrong.”
The best way to gain draagvlak – a Dutch word that is difficult to translate but roughly means “broad public support” – is to show people the benefits, Reitsma said. “If you think a wind turbine doesn’t produce energy, or if you see it in the landscape and think it’s ugly, if you know three thousand households get energy from it, you’ll have a better understanding and you’ll think differently about it,” he said.
Gaining draagvlak for wind energy is one of Windcentrale’s main goals; another is to have an impact on sustainable energy development in the Netherlands. “With one, two, three windmills we don’t have a big impact,” Reitsma said, but the company plans to add much more. “Aim high,” he said. “We are not extra disappointed if it doesn’t work, but that’s our goal. We know it’s very ambitious but we think it’s a good target.
“What’s key is why people are enthusiastic about this,” he continued. “We think it’s because many people want to do something good, help the environment, and at the same time save money. It’s the best of both worlds for many people. Until now, if you wanted to ‘be green’, it was a lot more expensive.”
Windcentrale’s next wind turbine auction will take place next Sunday.
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Image courtesy Windcentrale