It’s blowy out there…

Here’s a couple of interesting graphs on this day of gales, taken from the data that is recorded from our turbine, Varuna, sent to Denmark for analysis and then back to us here in Achiltibuie! Just a small selection of the data we get, it shows wind speeds and electricity generation since the beginning of the month.

Here’s the wind speed:

You can see Storm Caroline hitting us overnight and with windspeeds at Varuna now generally in excess of 25m/s which is 55mph or Beaufort Force 10.

So, how much electricity does all this generate?


You can see that Varuna has been doing her thing well so far this month. Generation starts when the wind speed is around 5m/s and she’s been going flat out generating a steady maximum of 500kW for most of the last two days. Now, however, you’ll see she’s generating nothing. Blown over? No! At wind speeds above 25m/s the turbine blades are feathered and it stops turning. This is a safety precaution to prevent damage and it happens automatically; when the wind drops for a set period the blade pitch will adjust again so the wind will once more turn the rotor and generation will recommence.

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Pipped at the post

We were pipped at the post for the Best Community Project award at the Scottish Green Energy Awards in Edinburgh on 30th November by a very worthy winner, West Harris Community Trust. They have a nice scheme which ticks so many boxes – it’s up and delivering tangible community benefits right now whereas we are only part way down the road. They have a small wind turbine coupled with solar panels which provide heat, light and power to a new community building, Talla na Mara, where community members engage in a whole range of activities. The prize category didn’t give marks for blood, sweat or tears, so we’ve no hard feelings! Being short-listed for the accolade before we have started delivering significant community benefits was a real achievement.

Despite missing that prize, Coigach was on the rostrum when Locogen won the Best Community Engagement award for their work with our community on Ben Mor Hydro, the hydro scheme on the Achavraie burn.

The event was excellent with a lot of useful networking which could serve us well in the future. Thanks go to HIE and Locogen for giving us places at their tables.

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What’s in a name?

Something or nothing. When we asked for suggestions for a name for the Coigach Wind Turbine we got a wide range – some light-hearted, some serious, some rude, some corny – certainly none that everyone would agree on, until one came up which set us back on our heels a bit. A name which for those volunteer directors who gave countless hours of their own time, some for all 14 years of the project’s life, struck a deep chord.
Bringing the wind turbine project to fruition for our community has been a long, demanding and difficult struggle for Coigach Community Development Company and along the way we inevitably fell in step with other, similar communities, fighting the same issues that we were, giving support and advice to one another. Many of these communities are, like CCDC, supported by Highlands and Islands Enterprise who pay the wages of a Local Development Officer (LDO) as they do for our job-sharers Julia and Abigail Anne. One community who we have found particular common purpose with is Applecross. This is an extract of what their LDO, Alison Macleod, wrote in her letter to Highland Council planners in support of our turbine’s planning application:
“I am pleased to write in support of the wind turbine proposed for the Coigach. I live and work in a similar small and fragile community (Applecross), where we share many of the problems faced by the community in the Coigach; falling population, aging population, falling school roles, decline in the variety of job opportunities available as traditional industries such as fishing fail and we have become more and more reliant on tourism. House prices are well beyond the reach of local people and there is a shortage of affordable housing…..The community which will live with the wind turbine has voted in favour of it….Many of those who voted in favour are dependent on tourism themselves, and are willing to accept the very small risk that it may discourage some visitors. My guess is that it will actually attract people to Coigach. Visitors like to see a living, working community where people show initiative and enthusiasm and work hard to ensure that it has a future; that is so much better and more interesting than somewhere that has become just a tourist destination and is slowly dying as the majority of young people leave.”
Like his wife, Ali Macleod was a strong supporter of our communities – the points he made in his letter of support to Highland Council in support of our turbine’s planning application echo those of Alison’s. More than that, like many of our own, Ali was a prawn fisherman, creel fishing single-handed out of Applecross, and he actively campaigned for creeling as a sustainable fishery. Ali’s popular online blog, ‘Applecross Life’ speaks of a principled man passionate about his community, the environment, social justice and all those other things many of us find admirable. Just last week Ali was lost at sea, his boat found on rocks, empty. A huge search was conducted. Our own Coastguard team volunteered their time and joined that search for Ali. He has not been found. Ali was known to many in Coigach, not just to CCDC, and he will be a huge loss felt far beyond his own family and community. He was 57 and he and Alison have four sons.
Ali Macleod’s boat was named Varuna, a reference to the majesty of sky and sea, justice and truth, and this was the suggested name that set us back on our heels. Notwithstanding the naming competition, and with apologies for those who made other suggestions, CCDC directors felt after discussion that Varuna would be a very good name for our turbine. Not only is its literal meaning appropriate, but the tribute it would pay to an admirable man and friend of Coigach, and the link with his community, would be particularly fitting. We have asked Alison if she would agree to the suggestion and she is very touched and grateful for this sentiment.

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Approaching the journey’s end…

On a cold, wet and windy day yesterday members of Coigach community and others gathered to celebrate the realisation of a dream started in March 2003 when, at a packed community meeting, the decision was taken to explore the possibility of erecting a wind turbine to generate funds for community projects. After a long and at times turbulent gestation the 500kW turbine was commissioned in March of this year and is now generating those valuable funds.

Those who came to the event in the community hall saw a fantastic exhibition of photographs and information about the project before going up to the wind turbine to hear snatches of Iain Muir read a ‘Toast to the Turbine’ through the howling wind after which a quaich full of whisky was launched at the turbine which began to wail as Alison Sinclair, secreted within, struck up her bagpipes as Lizzie Williams was thrust forward to cut the ribbon, after which many people and two dogs made their way into the turbine base for shelter. Following that, everyone went to the nearby Ben Mor Hydro turbine house at Acheninver to hear Stuart Hamilton of Locogen Ltd explain the complexities of the 500kW turbine with its 2 km pipeline bringing water from high above Coigach. Everyone then repaired to the hall for a warming bowl of soup from Achiltibuie Garden who were catering for the day’s events. Lots of discussion and questions for CCDC and CWP directors and Locogen (our project managers) before early evening saw dinner being served, the bar opened and the ceilidh started with music from the amazing Ruaraidh Maclean.

Some who braved the weather, camera shaken by the wind.

Toast to the Turbine, shouted through the wind.

Shelter in the turbine tower.

Inside the hydro turbine house.



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Up and running – and in the running!

Processed with MOLDIV


You may well ask what have we been doing since our last posting on this site, and why haven’t we been keeping it up to date? Well, glad to say we’ve done just about everything and the turbine was commissioned at the end of March 2017, on schedule, and is generating electricity and raising funds for the community. Why haven’t we been keeping the site up to date, to report on all the steps we’ve taken? Well, we were up to our eyes and felt the priority was to just to dedicate our time to what was a very demanding and time-consuming job with tight deadlines.

Meanwhile CCDC’s website and Facebook page have been recording some of the many milestones along the way in getting the turbine up and turning and the photomontage here records just some of them. There have been countless hours of volunteer work by CCDC and Coigach Wind Power directors put into the project, with other community members helping out from time to time. We’ve also had tremendous support from the team from our technical project managers, Locogen Ltd, our community project manager Susan Clark of Great Glen Consulting Ltd and our own part-time staff, Julia and Abigail Anne. Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Local Energy Scotland have provided vital support with help in funding and advice. These, however, are just some of the many we’ve had close dealings with – others include our lawyers and accountants, civil and electrical contractors, turbine supplier and manufacturer, banks and financial companies, transport companies, Ofgem, SSE, Highland Council, Scottish Land Court, local crofters, the press, Scottish Wildlife Trust and several visiting parties.

What’s next? A bit of technical fine tuning of systems, refinancing the whole project now that we’ve taken the construction risk out of it, providing locals and others an opportunity to invest in the turbine at attractive rates of interest, exploring with Ben Mor Hydro ways of delivering electrical energy to the community using innovative technology…and organising a grand opening event (watch this space!)…and attending the Scottish Green Energy Awards ceremony where we’ve been shortlisted for the Best Community Project!

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Section 19a Approval


We’ve heard that our application for a so-called ‘Scheme for Development’, otherwise known as a Section 19a, has been granted by the Scottish Land Court. This will allow us to put the final piece of the jigsaw in our land agreement in place with the landowners, Scottish Wildlife Trust, and the shareholders of the Achiltibuie common grazings. In its findings, the Land Court concluded that the project is a reasonable use for the land requested, fairly recompenses the crofting shareholders of the common grazing, is not unfair to them and that the community will benefit financially from the development. In arriving at its decision the the Land Court conducted a two day hearing in Ullapool which saw CWP directors and others giving evidence in support of our application. The three crofter shareholders who had objected had withdrawn their objections leaving only two holiday-home owners to have their objections considered. Trifling though this may have seemed, it did cost us a lot of time and money to pursue – time that would have been better spent on community development and money that most certainly should have been spent in the community.

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Tilting at windmills

windmillsOur community wind project – the Village Turbine – is proceeding apace with our project managers Locogen Ltd moving ahead on several fronts readying for construction and a ‘switch on’ date of March 2017, with funds then beginning to roll in for community projects. Busy and exciting times!

Of the many things on the list to do, finalising the agreement with the crofters on the Achiltibuie Common Grazings is but one. With a vast 3,500 hectares (over 8,600 acres) of ground on the grazings the Village Turbine will take just 0.98 hectares out of the lightly-grazed area available, and apart from the base of the turbine itself the rest of that 0.98 hectares will be a new access track and an area of hard standing both of which will be unfenced and open for the crofters to use. It will be an excellent help in managing their stock and feeding them over the winter. For the loss of the 0.98 hectares for the track and hardstanding, the shareholders of the common grazing who claim agricultural subsidies will see a very small loss of subsidy which will be more than made up by the compensation being offered to them over the 20 year life of the community project. The compensation money will come out of the funds which were otherwise destined to be spent in the wider community.

The process to arrive at an agreement with the crofters inevitably involves the Scottish Land Court who adjudicate on such matters, and so we are going through that process now – something which couldn’t be done previously as details of the project were being finalised. The process is referred to as a ‘Section 19A application’ (it is made under Section 19A of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993) and it sees the land being taken out of crofting not permanently but just for the 20 year lifetime of the project – it’s the process that other communities have used for their community wind turbine projects throughout the crofting counties. Up until our case, all Section 19A applications have gone through the court system as simple administrative procedures, but in our case a court case has been triggered by objectors.

There are 35 shareholders of the Achiltibuie Common Grazings and there were no objections from any to the Village Turbine proposal except for three who claim that they are not being compensated adequately for the loss of the 0.98 hectares. Two of the objectors are part-time crofters and neither is the third wholly dependent on income from grazing livestock. We’ve tried to negotiate an acceptable position with these three crofters but they refuse to meet with us or to enter into any form of discussion. We’ve offered to increase the level of compensation although it will take money away from community projects. We’ve also cleared up several misunderstandings they had about the project as the objectors have not attempted to inform themselves about the project by attending the many public information meetings and events we have held up to this point. One objection is that if the Village Turbine was allowed, they would not be able to put one up on their own on a private commercial basis for no community benefit; another objection is that the fences will disrupt their gathering – but there will be no fences.

The Scottish Land Court is there to protect the rights of crofters and in this case is concerned that shareholders of the Achiltibuie Common Grazing are fairly treated. We heartily approve of this. The Scottish Land Court’s advertising of our Section 19A application in the Ullapool News also resulted in five objections from resident and non-resident holiday home owners who are not shareholders of the Achiltibuie Common Grazing who generally raised planning matters that have already been considered and dealt with when the project got the unanimous approval of Highland Council’s Planning Committee – planning matters are of no interest to the Scottish Land Court.

With the objections still in place, the Land Court process will now move to a formal hearing, due to take place on May 9th. Given the overwhelming benefits the project will bring to the crofting and wider community of Coigach with the £2.2 million of funds it is forecast to bring us (a figure that could be doubled with matched funding for projects), we are confident that the court will find in our favour and approve the Section 19A application. There then remains the matter of the cost of going to court and as with the normal course of things we expect the Land Court to award costs in accordance with their ruling. If this were to be the case, as seems likely, we have been advised by our lawyers that the objectors would be faced with a bill of around £15,000 for our costs alone. Given that the objecting crofters are the ones who the Scottish Land Court are particularly concerned with, and they have refused to discuss anything at all with us we asked our lawyers to write to them to ensure that they are fully aware of the situation they might be getting themselves into by taking us to court – not threatening letters by any means but rather ones which will encourage reflection, for it’s in the interests of nobody in Coigach that this matter proceeds to a court hearing.

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Great news for Coigach’s future…

In the light of a revised method of connecting our turbine to the grid which will cost us less than original estimates, and with further analysis of wind recordings, the value of our project to the community of Coigach has been further refined – and it’s tremendous news! After all finance costs we are on track to deliver 2.2 million pounds over the twenty year lifetime of the project to Coigach Community Development Company for spending in our community – for wide-ranging community projects, business developments, bursaries for young folk, etc.

With this to look forward to it’s a great time to be in Coigach!

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Latest News

Our project is on track to start delivering energy to the National Grid and money to Coigach’s coffers in March 2017. With that deadline in mind our project managers Locogen Ltd are working back from it to ensure everything slots into place. To maximise the income for the community from our single turbine we have reduced the output from our original plan of 900kW to 500kW. This may sound counter-intuitive but the payment per kilowatt of power generated is much higher for turbines up to 500kW. We’re all very busy on day-to-day dealings with the project and are grateful to Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Community Energy Scotland and Scottish and Southern Energy for their ongoing support and funding.

The cuts in support for onshore wind projects announced by the Westminster Government will fortunately not affect our project as we are far enough advanced and of a smaller scale than those they targeted. It remains to be seen whether the agreements reached at the Paris climate change summit last week will see the UK Government reverse some of its recent and regrettable undermining of the country’s low-carbon ambitions.

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You’ll have heard we got it!

To date almost 1,000 of our friends and supporters on Coigach Community Development Company’s Facebook page alone have picked up the news that Coigach Wind Power has got full planning permission for our community wind turbine!

The great news spread like wildfire through the community with photographs being ‘phoned home’ of the group of local folk who travelled through to the actual planning hearing to show the strength of community support for the project. Nothing like a cuppa to relieve the tension!…except perhaps a dram, but that wasn’t available at the Council Offices…

The Coigach Support Crew!

The Coigach Support Crew!

This is only the ‘end of the beginning’ though… and a long beginning it has been with over ten years of local volunteer research, meetings, consultations, public meetings and presentations – and now latterly with the volunteer directors of Coigach Wind Power, whose parent community company is CCDC, taking things forward to a very professionally presented planning application, complete with full, independent Environmental Impact Statement.           From its very inception, consultation with local crofters and bodies such as Scottish Natural Heritage and landowners Scottish Wildlife Trust was built in to the project.
News picCongratulations flooded in from other community companies in the Highlands and Islands who are also seeking to, or already are, supporting  their fragile or challenged areas with clean energy projects.

So now the next phase of hard work starts, but we hope to get support for a paid, locally-based Community Energy development officer to take the lead in bringing the 2 renewable energy projects in the locality forward: the community wind turbine and the smaller Hydro project (a shared project with SWT) which also has planning permission.

And this is how it was reported in the West Highland Free Press (Article by WHFP Staff reporter, Lisa Falconer):

“Submitted by community group Coigach Wind Power, the application for a single 900kW turbine standing 77 metres tall at Achvraie, Achiltibuie, was passed by Highland Council’s north planning committee on Tuesday.

The news was greeted with delight in Achiltibuie, with CWP project officer Peter Muir calling it “a major milestone” for the project. He added that there was still a long way to go, however, until the project was up and running. Mr Muir said, having looked at similar ventures, that it could be two to four years before the turbine is operational.

Coigach Wind Power chair Alison Hitchings added: “We are delighted to have this consent in place which will allow us to move on with the project and deliver the financial benefits it will provide for the Coigach community.”

Work has been ongoing on the community project since at least 2006, planning officer Dorothy Stott told members of the committee on Tuesday. She added that in addition to providing a lengthy environmental statement, discussions had been held with Scottish Natural Heritage to find the best position for the turbine and no consultees had raised objections to the scheme.

As well as a community ballot held in 2010, which showed 68 per cent of local residents were in favour of the scheme, the application attracted 320 public comments in support, plus a petition signed by 33 people. Meanwhile, 256 objections were received objecting to the plans, many of which came from outwith the area – including Germany and Spain –  something East Sutherland and Edderton councillor

Graham Phillips said “really doesn’t wash”. He added that it was a community development which was “vitally” needed and gave his full backing to the scheme.
Proceeds from the scheme are set to be fed into local projects such as pier restoration, social housing and workshop provision, but those opposing the plans believe it will have a detrimental effect on tourism as well as affecting the National Scenic Area designation for Assynt-Coigach.
Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh councillor Audrey Sinclair said that given the stunning scenery of the area she could understand why the application had attracted such a vast number of comments. However, Coigach is “a community on the edge” she said, noting that the latest Census results had shown an 11 per cent drop in the population of Achiltibuie. She added that this was a community project — with the backing of the vast majority of local residents, and the benefits to be ploughed back locally — and that “anything to improve and keep it viable, the better”.
Her fellow ward councillor, Biz Campbell, said that in Coigach “enthusiasm has been second to none” for the scheme. “It is a local enterprise generating power and income, helping to sustain a very very fragile local community,” she said. “I fully support this application and admire the community for their enterprise and what they are doing for the area.”
Mr Muir extended his thanks to SNH, Atmos Consulting, laywers Harper MacLeod and all the volunteers involved in the project over the years.
There was further good news for the area with the approval of a planning application for the Ben Mor hydro scheme, a joint venture between the Coigach Community Development Company and Ben Mor Estate landowners the Scottish Wildlife Trust.”

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