Groups lose out as millions go on turbines that don’t work

BY MURRAY MACLEOD
murray.macleod@whfp.co.uk

A number of community groups across the Highlands and Islands have seen their plans to secure a valuable source of income from small wind turbine developments scuppered by a series of mechanical faults with the machines.

The Free Press has learned that many of the organisations involved have become so frustrated by the situation — and by the inability to find a resolution — that they have either given up on their plans altogether or are on the brink of doing so.

All the turbines involved are supplied by Northern Irish firm West Wind. Most are in the 20-kilowatt range, or smaller.

The organisations involved are to be found in Lewis (at least three), in Harris, in Barra, on the west coast and in Shetland.

Many of the problems have emerged with community projects, but others in the private sector are also thought to be affected.

Community Energy Scotland, with funding from the Scottish Government, supported a total of 19 different projects involving small community wind turbines. Most were in the Highlands and Islands — and most are now experiencing major difficulties.

The problems range from the turbines catching fire through electrical faults, through to the foundation bolts shearing and an assortment of mechanical faults.

Attempts to finding a solution are complicated by the fact that the installer was a company called Shetland Wind, who have now gone into liquidation.  West Wind blame many of the problems on Shetland Wind. If the turbines were erected by any other firm, the manu­facturer’s warranty is void — leaving the community groups with very little recourse.

One of the affected groups is Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn, the com­munity landlord in north Lewis. With funding support from CES, they erected a 20-kw turbine from West Wind to power their offices and provide a source of additional income.

An Urras spokesperson said: “There are obviously major design problems with these turbines. We have seen the foundation bolts sheared, cracks in the tailfin and the mechanical brake has never really worked.
“It’s very disappointing to say the least. We are not in debt through it, because it was funded by CES, but it means an income we hoped to have is no longer coming. There was a lot of money spent on it and something really needs to be done.”

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott told the Free Press he was aware of numerous problems with the West Wind turbines.
“We have managed to get some success from contacting the company direct,” he said. “Our engineers up here have also come up with some solutions. But it’s been a bit of an epic for everyone involved.”
Jamie Adam, development manager for CES, said: “Under the Scottish Government’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme grants programme we funded the installation of a number of West Wind turbines. We are aware that a number of those have not performed as expected.

“The Scottish Government provided additional assistance via CES… to rectify the problems, but we are aware there are some recurring faults. We understand the Scottish Government is working with West Wind and the micro-generation certification scheme to explore options to resolve the issues for those communities who may still be experiencing problems.”
Several attempts were made to obtain comment from West Wind on the issue but without success.