How one golf club’s finances are healthy because it has installed a wind turbine

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 13, 2011 13:04

For several years, almost unnoticed, golf course landscapes in this country have changed as several clubs have built wind turbines by their holes, as they have benefited from, so to speak, the huge windfalls they can bring in.

However, this national oversight changed last month when none other than Donald Trump, the owner of Aberdeen’s controversial new golf course, which is set to open next year, rallied against them.

“Many places, such as Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and numerous others, have rejected these so-called wind farms because they are unsightly and noisy,” he said. “I am very disappointed that Scotland may allow the development of a wind-power plant directly off Aberdeen’s beautiful coastline.”

He was referring to the £150 million joint venture to build 11 wind turbines near his Scottish resort, which was submitted for a planning application last month. His views about the turbines being unattractive and loud are not uncommon. “The mere mention of turbines is apt to put golfing committees in a spin,” said Lewine Mair, the Daily Telegraph’s golf correspondent. “And that applies even at those clubs where they are still trying to play their way out of the recession.

“’Over our dead bodies,’ would appear to be the most oft-repeated cry. It seems that they do not want to see them from the clubhouse window.”

However, there appears to misperceptions about how big wind turbines need to be and how noisy they are, and a lack of knowledge about how lucrative they can be.

Recently, the topic of Feed-in Tariffs (FITs) was explored in relation to solar panels, as golf clubs that install them generate electricity for themselves and see their bills reduced as a result, sell energy back to the National Grid and receive government payments for 25 years. The FITs apply to wind turbines as well – for 20 years – plus, according to Iain Macpherson, a renewable energy expert, over 30 per cent of golf courses offer viable wind speed conditions. And, perhaps more importantly, the turbines are not necessarily invasive or loud.

 

Size and noise

“The belief is that turbines are intrusive and noisy,” he stated, “the masts, however, for turbines up to 15kW, stand some 15 to 20 metres high and are not unlike telephone masts that have previously offered clubs a form of revenue. Were one to use the options of a modular frame, they can also blend more into the background.

“With noise, it can be that at a distance of 100 metres, they blend into being no more than the decibel noise of countryside background noise.”

“Wind turbines are not noisy,” added a spokesman for RenewableUK, a trade body for UK wind renewables’ industries. “The evolution of wind farm technology over the past decade has rendered mechanical noise from turbines almost undetectable with the main sound being the aerodynamic swoosh of the blades passing the tower. There are strict guidelines on wind turbines and noise emissions. It is possible to stand underneath a turbine and hold a conversation without having to raise your voice. As wind speed rises, the noise of the wind masks the noise made by wind turbines.”

 

Generating income

The obvious attraction of the turbines, aside from being kind to the planet, is the money they can bring clubs that are nervous about being too reliant on members and visitors for income. A 6kW turbine can cost as much as £35,000 to be installed and commissioned, while a 15kW machine can cost more than £50,000 excluding other expenditure, including the planning application, a possible risk assessment, site survey and groundworks, but according to David Hunt, co-founder of Eco-Environments, the machines pay for themselves in a maximum of six years, giving a huge return on the investment. “That is why there is such big interest from farmers and industrial parks, and indeed people with an acre or two of land,” he said.

“Venture capitalists [such as Ventus] are looking into this form of investment as it is guaranteed backed by the government and returns mirror that of eight per cent over 20 years,” said Iain Macpherson. “The FITs are reduced after April 2012 and will be so thereafter annually by approximately a penny and ongoing. For wind generation from a 15kW turbine, the tariff is 26.7p/kWh and drops to 25.5p for a year. If you buy in at 26.7p you stay at 26.7p, index-linked, for the duration; likewise 25.5p for those buying from April 2012 to March 2013 for the duration and so on, year on year.”

Allendale GC, a private members’ golf club in Northumberland that was consuming 12,147kWh per year, recently installed a Proven 6kW turbine attached to the grid, a move that has delighted club treasurer Robin Down.

“The club was making a profit or loss of £2,000 per year, depending on how much it rained,” he explained, “so we decided to address the financial issues facing the golf club by harnessing wind power. We wanted to make the weather work for us, to generate income and cut down our energy bills. We’re in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but the turbine has only had a minimal impact on the course and surroundings.

“We recouped the money we put in within nine months. We’ll be generating at least 8,500kWh this year, which will bring in more than £2,500 per annum. It’s true to say that it’s money from thin air.”

The FIT payments are paid out by the golf club’s energy supplier, which, in the case of Allendale, is E.ON. “The grid itself acts as your battery, accepting the time you generate and the time you use,” stated Iain Macpherson. “There must be an Ofgem-approved total generation meter connected to the installation, with which all the major electricity companies deal. The big six suppliers are duty bound to make regular payments to those who choose to install. The actual installers must be microgeneration certified [such as Evoco Energy, Gaia-Wind, Proven Energy, quietrevolution, Southwest Windpower and Xzeres Wind].” Furthermore, he added that in the drive towards renewable energy, businesses and households that are not involved in some way will pay higher supplementary costs to fund it, whereas those that are ‘in’ will be exempt.

 

Grants and funding

Funding opportunities for turbines exist all over the UK, although in recent months they have been more difficult to secure.

Alness Golf Club in the Highlands, which was suffering from rising electricity prices that was spent on its clubhouse and storage heating, also installed a 6kW (Eoltec) turbine which was attached to the National Grid, and received a £12,036 grant from Community Energy Scotland, to fund the £24,072 cost of installing the turbine.

Whitehead Golf Club in Northern Ireland installed two 15kW Proven wind turbines last year, which were funded by the Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) SMART programme and the Low Carbon Buildings Programme, while for every unit of renewable electricity generated, the club will be eligible to claim Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs). Last year’s club captain, Eamon McAllister, admitted that it would not have been possible to install the turbines without the grant support available.

Elsewhere, large projects can seek project finance from ethical investment schemes, such as Triodos Renewables, an initiative of Triodos Bank, or Energy4All, an initiative of the Baywind Energy Co-operative.

“We got 95 per cent of our funding from the Low Carbon Buildings Programme and the Rural Development Programme, funded by DEFRA and the EU,” said Robin Down. “That funding was vital for us – especially as the high street banks were particularly unhelpful. We only put in about £2k of our own money to cover the costs of planning permission and consultancy charges.”

 

Interest from clubs

Before funding was available, and before the FIT scheme was introduced, Alexander Rankin, in the mid-1990s, paid £17,500 to have a turbine installed at his wind-swept home in Fyvie, not far from Trump’s new resort. By the time it had paid for itself, nine years later, Rankin built a golf course on the land (the turbine is now located between the seventh and eighth holes), and since then it has powered 70 per cent of the electricity needed for the course, including the buggies, and Rankin’s home.

It has been so successful that Rankin is considering taking advantage of the FIT scheme by investing a further £50,000 for a 15kW turbine, which would power his new clubhouse and be attached to the grid, ensuring it brings in an income. And what’s more, Rankin cannot believe the reluctance of the golfing community towards turbines.

“People who say that wind power isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said. “All sorts of golf clubs could be making a marked difference to their carbon footprint. The turbine is not noisy, you have to be reasonably close to it to hear it, and the members love it. It reduces their fees, it’s a marker for the 17th hole and, of course, when the rest of the hillside is in the throes of a power cut, we’ve still got electricity.”

Eamon McAllister, from Whitehead GC, added: “We are delighted with the wind turbines, they have surpassed all expectations. We felt it was very important to set an example to other golf clubs and to the people in Whitehead by embracing a renewable ‘clean’ energy. The golf course is on high ground so was ideally suited to a wind turbine and it was very easy to construct. Not only do we save on energy costs but the turbines have created a talking point on the golf course and created a local interest.”

 

Planning applications

Local opposition to wind turbines can make it difficult to secure planning approval, but this tends to only be relevant for the more famous large wind turbines that can power whole communities. For smaller turbines that will only fuel the golf club they live on, excluding the energy sold back to the grid, securing a favourable planning application is likely, according to Iain Macpherson. “The larger turbines are costly to get through a lengthy planning process, whereas up to 15kW ones are being looked upon as friendly by local councils for the purpose of planning and with perhaps a three-month turnaround,” he said.

“Getting planning approval, stated Robin Down from Allendale Golf Club, “was relatively straightforward. There were several other turbines in the area already, and precedent is very important. Also, the club is in quite a remote location – we have no close neighbours – except for sheep, and they’re not vociferous!”

 

Wind turbine technology

Turbines are mostly tubular and made of steel, while the blades are made of glass-fibre reinforced polyester or wood-epoxy. They make electricity due to the rotor blades, which rotate around a horizontal hub, which is connected to a gearbox and generator, located inside the nacelle. The wind turns the blades around, this spins the shaft, which connects to a generator and this is where the electricity is made. They start operating at wind speeds of around 10 miles per hour and reach maximum power output at approximately 33 miles per hour. Turbines typically last about 25 years. Large wind turbines, which some golf clubs, such as Ventnor Golf Club in the Isle of Wight, which sought planning permission for three 225kW turbines, have considered installing, generate huge amounts of electricity. For example, a 1.8MW turbine would meet the annual needs of over 1,000 households.

“Just think of how much wind is there to be harnessed at some of our Open championship venues,” stated Lewine Mair.

“Take Turnberry where, on the second day of the 1975 John Player Classic, Tony Jacklin required a driver, a one-iron and two three-irons by way of arriving on the green of the 515-yard 17th. For the record, he holed out for his par.
Carnoustie, of course, would be another delicious wind trap, as indeed would St Andrews.

“Some members of the old school talk about turbines in much the same derogatory tones they usually reserve for women golfers, but it is not too difficult to understand why renewable energy enthusiasts would see golfers and wind turbines as perfect bedfellows.”

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 13, 2011 13:04

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