A dairy farmer is attempting to develop the first co-operative wind farm in the Borders, claiming it could yield profits of up to £35million for three communities.
Jim Shanks and social enterprise scheme Energy 4 All are behind the Waverley Community Wind Farm Co-operative at Shaw Park between Stow and Lauder.
If planning permission is granted, their project will offer locals the opportunity to own a share of the nine turbines. And over a 20-year period, Energy 4 All estimates the co-operative wind farm would generate between £25million and £35million for the people of Stow, Lauder and Melrose, compared to a £1million contribution over 25 years from a normal development.
Mr Shanks, whose family have farmed at Standhill near Hawick for 50 years, said his motive is to end wind farm developers taking money out of the region.
He told TheSouthern: “I am sick to death of multi-national developers coming here, taking our most valuable resource of the Borders and selling ourselves down the river every time.
“We are selling this valuable resource for a pittance. Twenty or 30 years ago we had agriculture and knitwear – we don’t have either now, but we do have wind.
“There would not be a clamour to invest in wind farms if they were not profitable. It is the most bankable commodity there is.”
The idea cropped up during a discussion at a wedding in Ayrshire with a fellow farmer, who had been approached by four multi-national companies to develop a wind farm on his land.
The farmer rejected the offers, but Mr Shanks, who visited Sweden, Denmark and Germany as part of a scholarship-supported report on renewable energy published earlier this year, made his own proposal for a co-operative scheme which was accepted.
Discussions have taken place since last year with community councils at Stow, Lauder and Melrose, and public exhibitions, ahead of a July planning application, are to take place from June 13-16 in each settlement.
Mr Shanks admits he has had difficulties persuading each community about the benefits of the project, with opponents saying the Borders is now saturated with wind farms.
He added: “I had to get over knowledge to the community councils because it started off as fear among the communities.
“Once you can replace fear with knowledge, people start to see what I am trying to do compared to the status quo everywhere else. I told them that they would be far better taking ownership of a part of this project.
“Other developers are not willing to do that because their shareholders do not want to give away any of the profits.
“Energy 4 All take their fee for setting it up and then back off so the community co-operative owns the wind farm. I don’t own it, but will have a stake in the co-operative.”
Mr Shanks told us: “Shaw Park has the highest accessible wind speeds this side of Oban bar none, which counters the argument that wind farms should only be on the windiest sites, because this is it.
“Its a localised wind tunnel and it is so unusual to have a site which has such high wind speeds but also grid and transport access.
“I believe we have the best site in the Borders. If I was not doing it, there would be four other developers wanting to do it. I think we have something incredibly positive here if we can keep the resources within the Borders.”
Stow councillor Sandy Aitchison is an opponent of wind farms, but says objectors in small communities have “no place to go” in the face of applications from large companies.
“Therefore it is only right that local communities should be able to maximise the benefits they get from them and the scheme proposed by Mr Shanks is certainly better than filling the pockets of the shareholders of foreign multi-nationals,” added Mr Aitchison.
“To some people, including me, that is not a principled stance, but regrettably that seems to be the most pragmatic.”
Meanwhile Graeme Donald, a member of Lauderdale Community Council, described Mr Shanks’ plans as an “interesting option”, but added: “There is a long way to go. We are in the early stages of discussions on the wind farm proposal, not the community benefits.
“Jim has put community benefits to the front of his discussions unlike other developers. But our advice is that these are two separate issues and we will discuss the wind farm first, and the community benefits second.”
The public exhibitions will take place in Lauder (June 13), Melrose (June 14), Galashiels (June 15) and Stow (June 16).