An urgent plea is being made to potential investors to buy shares in a small community wind farm in the Hebrides in order to help reach its fundraising target of £350,000 by the end of the year.
UistWind is in the final stages of raising money for its two 900 kW turbines, but is facing a shortfall with only a couple of weeks to go until financial close.
The Community Share Offer has been extended before, in a bid to nudge the total closer to £350,000, and UistWind is launching one last appeal, ahead of the December 31 deadline.
The total raised currently stands at £323,250, with nearly £30,000 outstanding, and shares begin at £250.
Investment is sought from supporters of community renewables from near and far, and benefits to investors include a target rate of four percent return on investment and a say in how North Uist Development Company spends the money generated by the wind farm, as well as the more general benefits of having supported renewable energy creation and North Uist’s future prosperity.
The community of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides has a population of fewer than 2,000 and faces the challenges of a fragile economy and depopulation.
The UistWind project aims to create £2.33 million for the community over the project’s projected lifespan of 22 years, with the profits going straight back to the community via North Uist Development Company’s charitable activities.
The project, for two turbines generating a total of 1.8MW at Criongrabhal, near Clachan-na-Luib, will cost around £3.5million. Most of the finance is expected to be covered by a commercial loan of £2.5million from Triodos Bank – a specialist in community renewable energy finance – with a secondary loan of £650,000 from the Energy Investment Fund.
That leaves the community needing to raise £350,000. Although it could be possible to restructure the financial package if there was a shortfall in the share offer, that would mean bigger bank loans and a much smaller return to the community – virtually wiping out any profit for 10 years.
UistWind has full planning permission for its 1.8MW wind development and has a PPA with the National Grid. There is also space reserved for the project’s output on the cable to the mainland, to allow the export of its power.
It is also, critically, the last such project in the islands to have space on the cable, which is almost at full capacity, and therefore likely to be the last development that can happen without an interconnector, or similar infrastructure upgrade.
Construction is due to begin on the project at the end of January 2019 and be completed by the end of July 2019. Contracts are currently being negotiated and North Uist Development Company (Trading) has been able to keep its share offer open until December 31 because the bank agreed to a ‘compressed construction programme’.
Ameena Camps, one of the Local Development Officers with North Uist Development Company, said they were fortunate the bank agreed to this compressed programme but stressed: “We really need to get everyone to help us reach the minimum target”.
She said: “The financial model shows that without the £350,000 there is very little community benefit funds available for the first 10 years. We really need it to maximise the community benefit.”
Mustapha Hocine, Chair of the North Uist Development Company, said: “It’s been years and years of work and struggle but hopefully we can see the light at the end of the tunnel – it’s just a question of that final push to get there. Although we can see it, we’re not there yet.”
There was excitement, too, about what the future held.
“In general, there is a good positive feeling amongst the people involved. There is the excitement of what’s lying on the other side, once it is finalised – what we’ll be able to deliver to the community.
“It will contribute to the race against the depopulation and keep the youngsters on the island by creating opportunities to support future generations.”
The benefits, he said, have already began with the engagement of local contractors for groundworks. However, he stressed time was running out and the project still needed support.
“People need to understand that although we’ve extended the Share Offer a few times, that this is the final push. I would like to thank the community for their continuing support over the years and hopefully they will rally behind us again.”
Murdo Murray, Local Energy Scotland’s Development Officer for the Western Isles and Skye, said the UistWind project had experienced “a lot of difficulty over the years” and the many challenges they had overcome meant there was “more at stake with this project that just the finance”.
Mr Murray, former Director of Technical Services with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, also said the project would be the last renewable development in the Outer Hebrides to be built with Feed-In-Tariff support, which provides a cost-based price for the electricity supplied.
And, “In terms of projects that are up and running, North Uist is the last with a Grid connection.”
After that, there will only be around 3.5 kW available on the cable.
“That won’t even power a 5-kW domestic turbine, so the Grid is basically at capacity. Anybody that wants to do anything from now on, needs an interconnector.
“Uist Wind is unique in a sense. It’s the last of a generation that was able to get Grid connected, so let’s hope that it becomes successful.
“Getting it through financial close is the biggest hurdle. We’re hoping that it will work out. I would really love to see this project across the line. That’s my aim before Christmas.”