Dispatch Three

Turbine in fog, shot from below
Joshua Taron

Thick fog shrouds a large turbine at Harlock Hill.

It's not an easy trek to Harlock Hill's wind farm: You have to drive several miles northwest of Ulverston on England's notorious back roads, barely wide enough for a bicycle. The roads are lined by four-foot stone walls, and surrounded by the vivid green foliage only possible in this country where it has rained every day for the last week and a half.

When we arrive, we gaze silently at the 44-meter wind turbine nearest the gate, a 500-kilowatt monster named Cloudlifter working against the impenetrable fog that rolls in and out of the valley, masking and unmasking the other light-gray turbines. The five of them (generating a total of two and a half megawatts of energy) provide a stark, futuristic contrast to the bucolic landscape—- a powerful and beautiful representation of human ingenuity and hope for generations to come.

The extraordinary aspect of this particular wind farm lies in its economic structure. Baywind Energy Cooperative Ltd. was founded in 1996 with the goal of energy independence for the Harlock Hill community. Modeled after successful Swedish ventures, Baywind provides a feasible alternative to centralized energy in the UK. Investments in the co-op come from individuals from all over England, with 43 percent coming from local sources. Each investor is a shareholder and is allotted one vote in company decisions, regardless of the amount of investment. Shares can only be traded among members. Half a percent of profits from sales to the UK's national energy grid go to an Energy Conservation Trust to support local projects, while the rest is returned to the members. The investment return rate has remained fairly constant at around six percent per year.

Long view of turbine almost completely hidden by fog
Joshua Taron

A sense of scale: students and windmills at Harlock Hill.

Baywind and other co-ops now springing up in the UK receive help from the British government in two critical ways. A subsidy is available which returns 20 percent of the initial investment and, perhaps more importantly, a Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) guarantees a constant purchase price for surplus electricity provided to the grid for the next 15 years.

When Baywind started this venture in the mid-nineties the surrounding community was, as is usually the case, not immediately enthusiastic. Despite the continued successes of wind energy, many prejudices remain with respect to the sight, sound, power-generating capabilities, and bird friendliness of wind farms. Several years ago a contracted engineer maintaining the site began to notice nesting material near the generator, at the top of one of the turbines. His speculation is that an owl had been nesting there, just behind the blades. But since production began in 1997, not a single dead bird has been found. None of the shareholders in the surrounding community or elsewhere have expressed any regrets. To the contrary, they love their wind farm, and no one seems eager to replace it with a coal-fired power plant.

Man standing next to sign about Herlock Hill Wind Farm
Joshua Taron

Brad Smithling: happy to be learning about wind.

Joshua Taron is a senior in environmental systems engineering.

Last Updated May 01, 2003