The fundraising campaign to build a community-owned wind farm in North Uist is on the cusp of success – with just £5,000 to go to reach the minimum target. UistWind needs to raise £350,000 by the end of this month in order to be able to build its two 900kW turbines at Criongrabhal, near Clachan-na-Luib, as planned in 2019 and return a decent amount of money back to the community for investing in good causes.
The project is being driven by North Uist Development Company (Trading), which is raising the money through a Community Share Offer and a newly-launched Crowdfunder. Under the share offer, there are a range of benefits including a target return of four per cent on in-vestment. The Crowdfunder offers smaller rewards in exchange for donations – but has no set minimum for investment, unlike the share offer, which begins at £250.
As at 5pm on Tuesday (December 17), the total money raised was £345,000.
Development officers working on the project said it was “superb” to be within touching distance of their target – but vowed to keep up the fundraising drive to raise even more, to increase the community’s stake in the project and therefore make it more profitable. The UistWind project aims to generate more than £105,000 a year – or £2.33million 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 1.8MW wind farm would be community owned and would cost around £3.5million to build. 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 left the community needing to raise £350,000 equity.
Financial close for the project is 31 December 2018 and the share offer and crowdfunding campaign will both remain open until then.
While it is still possible to build the wind farm if the community’s financial stake falls short, it would mean restructuring the financial package – leading to bigger bank loans and a much smaller return to the community. Now, though, there is joy and renewed optimism about the project’s finances. Andrew Ross, one of the Local Development Officers with North Uist Development Company, said the total had risen dramatically in the past few days – with £9,000 coming in on Monday alone.
The project is also attracting interest now from corporate investors. A property company with holiday lets in North Uist is among recent investors and inquiries have come from places including the United Arab Emirates. Island-based companies have made approaches and there has also been interest from a company in Germany.
Andrew said: “Generally speaking, we haven't had huge interest from businesses until very recently. As far as the Community Share Offer is concerned, I think it’s very positive. It seems to be going very well and I would think we’re going to get up to near £400,000 by the look of it, if it keeps going.”
He admitted the project team had not expected to see their total rise so quickly, after beginning their final publicity drive. UistWind has raised around £25,000 in just a few weeks. “It’s great. It’s superb. The way it’s gone up this week has been very gratifying.” However, the team will not be popping any champagne corks quite yet.
“I’ve always thought that with a push we could get to £400,000 by the end of the year and I still think that. It’s a good offer, a great project, with potential for a good return, and what we’re doing now is getting it out there – putting it in front of people who are able and willing to support it.”
Although the main fundraising target was £350,000, Andrew said it was “very much a case of the more the merrier”, adding: “We certainly don’t want to ease off, because the more that is raised, the greater the community benefit.”
He also said the past few days had highlighted how rich the Hebrides are in terms of wind. “In case we’ve forgotten, recent weather conditions showed what an enormous wind resource we have here and it’s great that we’re close to being able to realise the benefit of that.”
UistWind has full planning permission and a license to sell its electricity to the National Grid. There is also space reserved on the current cable for its power to be exported to the mainland. 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 fundraising has been allowed to continue to the year end because the bank agreed to a ‘compressed construction programme’.