Westmill Wind and Solar Farm

Last week I visited Westmill Farm, near Swindon. It is community owned wind and solar farm, or I should say part community owned, and the largest community project of this kind in the country. This was one of their open days. They are always happy to show people around by prior arrangement but a few times a year they throw the doors open.

I was shown around by a volunteer but you would not know it.Sorry but I can’t remember his name but he was just superb. Very knowledgeable and very interesting.

The day started at the small car park near the road, about 400m from the wind turbines. It was silent except for the gentle whistle of the wind-sculpture. The weather was cloudy but there was a 10-15mph wind and the turbines were turning steadily.

On the walk towards the turbines it was rather spooky. They looked quite close but it was silent as they were so far away. We didn’t start to hear anything until we were about 150m from the turbines.

Each turbine is 1.3MW and cost over £1m each but have a pay-back inside 8 years.

As we walked closer there was a noise, a kinda “whoosh, whoosh” but it was soft… quiet. The turbines are no closer than 600m to any inhabitants so I could imagine that no one is bothered by the little noise there is.

The turbines are now outside their 5 year manufacturer warranty but they have had just one major failure… a gearbox… but fortunately that was just inside the warranty period. This was replaced under warranty but would have cost about £70k.

So, with 5 turbines each at 1.3MW that is 6.5MW of generation capacity. But alongside this there is 32 acres of solar panels… 21,620 of them! This adds a further 5MW to the capacity of the farm giving a total of over 11MW.

Each of the 21,620 panels is rated at 225Wp.

The solar farm cost over £13m 2 years ago and is part funded by the community and loans. A similar farm this size would cost about half that today… just 2 years later!

The wind farm alone brings in over £1m a year for the cooperative which pays the loan and gives a return on investment to the community investors.

You can imagine that the solar farm installation might be a bit of a target for thieves so the security is impressive… cameras, laser beams and goodness knows what else!

This was a super couple of hours and if you get the chance to visit then I strongly recommend it.

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