The History of Community Windfarms

The modern wind industry grew out of small community owned and run wind turbines in Denmark. The governments of Germany, the US, the UK, Sweden and Canada sponsored research programs on very large machines in the early eighties, these projects went nowhere. It was the small groups of Danish farmers and rural enthusiasts, boosted by the oil crisis, getting together to buy small turbines as investments allowed by supportive Danish government policies that kept the industry going. These small machines were built by local makers of agricultural equipment who have now evolved into the modern giants of wind turbine manufacturing such as Vestas, Bonus, NEG Micon and Nordex.

The industry and technology in Denmark grew together and todayís main trend is for large machines, installed in large wind farms by large developers and utilities.

However, the era of the community wind farm is not quite over. In Denmark 75% of wind power is still produced by turbines owned by local associations and individuals. More than 100 000 families are share holders (wind guilds). In 2000, Middelgrunden was commissioned, a 40MW offshore wind farm 3km out of Copenhagen. Half of it is owned by a local utility, with the other half owned by the largest wind farm coop in the world, Middelgrunden Vindmoellelaug I/S. The average size of community based projects is much smaller in terms of installed capacity, averaging 2-5 MW.

Part ownership in windfarms with the local community also occurs in Germany; for instance, the Aachen-Vetschau wind farm, the two N80 machines for Mahlberg near Freiburg, or the Badbergen Windpark, are recent examples where utilites have gone in with locals. In the UK, one of the largest wind power operators has designed a one stop shop for farmers interested in wind energy to get involved in addition to their main business of large utility sized windfarms. Another of itís subsidiaries, is focusing on cooperative forms of small size wind farms. Another large developer embraces community involvement for a project in East Anglia. In addition other private initatives in Wales have been active recently.

Sweden, Holland, Spain and France have recently also come up with a number of community supported wind power projects, which fit into the description of the Renewable Energy Partnership, an initiative launched in 1999 under the European Commission White Paper for a Community Stragey and Action Plan for Renewable Energy Sources by 2010. Under this Program a study was commissioned in March 2003 on the backdrop of a wind power project in Ireland with the objectives of obtaining among others, the following insights:

  • a comprehensive review of the potential for community ownership of wind farms;
  • the various factors influencing ownership and community participation;
  • an analysis of international best practice and selection of successful models of shared ownership experience in Europe
The 60kw Breamlea wind turbine near Geelong in Victoria. First installed in 1987, it was built by WA's own Westwind and is similar to the machines in Esperance that were decommissioned in 2002..

In Australia to date, the only real community owned wind farm was Breamlea, which is a 60 kW Westwind made in WA and installed in 1987 by the former State Electricity Commission of Victoria and the Victorian Solar Energy Council (now Energy Victoria). In 1994, it was sold in poor condition to the Alternative Technology Association, a Melbourne based NGO with a current membership of over 3000. Using volunteers they completely overhauled the mechanics, controls and electricals and had it recommissioned by the 8th of December 1994, before being sold into private ownership a year later.

It was a community of interest rather than geography.

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