A wind farm developed by local authorities – case study Harderwijk

In the province of Gelderland, a municipality and a water board have joined forces to develop a wind farm. Their ambition is also to realize this wind farm together. The proceeds from the wind farm will therefore go directly and indirectly back to the residents.

Traditional Wind Energy in the Municipality Harderwijk. From left to right: Joep van Doornik (Vallei and Veluwe Water Board), Maartje Smit and Leon Pulles of Energy Investment Management

Windpowernl spoke with Leon Pulles, managing partner of Energy Investment Management BV who has been involved in the project for five years now. The case study is Harderwijk, a city located on the Veluwemeer in the western part of the province of Gelderland where the wind conditions are favourable for generating wind energy.

The municipality of Harderwijk was aware of this and of the sustainability goals the province had formulated. They decided not to wait but to work with the province to identify the possible search areas for wind. This turned out to be the Lorentz industrial estate and the grounds owned by the Vallei and Veluwe Water Board.

The question that followed was: if the municipality would cooperate, in what capacity? Various roles were considered including that of developer-investor, developer-concessionaire, active facilitator or passive facilitator. The preference was for the role of developer-investor.

Pulles: “Both the alderman at the time and the officials felt that this role suited them well. The thought was: the energy transition is necessary and we’re just going to do it ourselves. We’re going to be generous in terms of participation and use the project as an example for the wider sustainable transition.”

That strong sense of responsibility may also partly derive from the fact that Harderwijk lies between two nature reserves; the Veluwe and the Veluwemeer. People come to live here mostly for that reason. There is an awareness that a beautiful environment is very precious, that it must be preserved and that sustainability is important. Eventually the municipality and the water board made funding available and the province also helped.

From five to three

The original plan was for five wind turbines, given the considerable size of the industrial estate. “It sounds good, wind turbines on an industrial estate,” says Pulles, “but we found out that you have to deal with a lot of external safety and other issues that make it more complex.”

Now the plan is for three wind turbines: two on grounds owned by the municipality in Lorentz harbour and a third on the water board estate. The turbines will have a maximum tip height of 150 meters. That has nothing to do with the community’s preference to avoid lighting on the wind turbines, which is mandatory above 150 meters. The restriction in this case has everything to do with the proximity of Lelystad airport.

Pulles: “At an early stage we spoke with the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) and the conclusion at the time was that we could go higher, so we went on to develop and chose the location.”

Meanwhile, the sounding board group and council committee had also visited the wind turbine test field in Lelystad where turbines with different heights are located. “That visit was really enlightening. Everyone realized that you can see relatively little height difference at a distance of 100 meters. The preference was therefore for wind turbines of 200 meters. Even the people who were against wind turbines were of the opinion that if it has to be, then it is better to have bigger ones so that we can generate more power.

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Visit to wind turbine test field in Lelystad

However, when we wanted to concretize the plans with ILT, we were told no. The issue turned out to be possible nuisance for small aircrafts. Discussions with experts had revealed that the negative impact was negligible, so we could have appealed and probably held out for a long time. The question remained whether we would ultimately be proved right. We did not feel comfortable going into the appeal process on this basis. Preliminary processes for developing wind energy already take long enough.”

Come up with a clear plan

According to Pulles, there are some improvements that can be made in the development of onshore wind energy. “If we want to make this energy transition successful then it will have to be facilitated in more different ways. The fact that you spend five to eight years developing onshore wind is absurd.”

“At some point the choice was made to leave the energy transition up to regional and local authorities, the so-called ‘bottom-up’ approach. That really does have its advantages. For example, more people are now aware of the energy transition. Officials who worked on spatial planning five years ago have now been introduced to the energy theme. The question is, however, whether this will get us to where we need to be in 2030. If the national government were to take more control of the energy transition on land, as they do at sea, then I think the transition would be more manageable,” says Pulles.

It is still possible, according to Pulles. “Of course we don’t know what the technologies will be by then but just provide an outline of what our energy supply will look like in 2030 and 2050, and work towards it in a focused way. Everyone has the best intentions but they haven’t really set a final picture yet, as was the case with the Dutch Delta Works, for example.” Incidentally, this applies not only to the Netherlands but also to other European countries, he adds.

“If we need that much wind on land, then start looking at where it can be done best, rather than having each municipality decide where they think it can be done, only to find out that perhaps no one in the municipality wants these wind turbines.” Pulles hopes that perhaps the upcoming new environment law can speed things up.

He does want to emphasize, however, that the finger cannot be pointed at the government alone. According to him, the sector itself could also have played a better role, especially when it comes to including the public in the story. For example, the sector should have explained to the public from the start why the energy transition is necessary, what the impact is, but also draw comparisons with how things were done in the past. “If you think about how it used to be with coal firing then you shouldn’t really have so much resistance,” he says.

Local participation

Fortunately, the municipality of Harderwijk and the water board largely have the support of the local people and businesses. It helps that the wind turbines will be located on an industrial estate and near the water board. In addition, the people of Harderwijk are used to the view of the wind turbines on the other side of the lake, in the Flevopolder. Involvement from the outset, however, also plays a major role in the story.

Pulles: “We said from the start that participation is very important, that we want to do it well and that there is also room for it. Many commercial developers take a different view. They think it is important but are not as generous as we can be. At the end of the day, it is all about the numbers.”

Besides several information evenings, the initiators were also present at the Aaltjesdagen, a large public fair in Harderwijk. That way you reach people who might not come to an information evening that easy, says Pulles. They also involved young people. Primary school pupils were taken to the information centre of the Noordoostpolder wind farm and secondary school pupils took part in a challenge.

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Information stand at Aaltjesdagen

Residents and businesses were asked how they would like to participate in the wind farm. In Harderwijk, there was much attention for the collective interest. That made a sustainability fund a good solution. Proceeds from the future wind farm will go towards this fund. The fund stands for biodiversity, climate adaptation, sustainable energy and circularity. The community can propose ideas within these themes. For biodiversity in particular, it is usually difficult to make a business case. That appealed to people.

The return that goes to the shareholders indirectly comes back to the community. In fact, you can speak of 100% local ownership, says Pulles; “In addition to the sustainability fund, we would have liked to organize financial participation by means of participation loans, but with a project of just three wind turbines, there is limited space in the business case for this. If we had realized five wind turbines it might have been possible.”

Current state of affairs

Meanwhile, the SDE subsidy for the project has already been awarded. Fortunately for the initiators, the government has recently started granting subsidies to wind projects that face a nationally imposed restriction, such as the height limitation in this case. Pulles: “This makes the business case a little better but of course we would have preferred to realize more electricity production.”

The tender is expected to be launched before the end of the year with construction likely to start in 2023. Everything depends on the outcome of two cases that are still pending before the Dutch Council of State. At the moment the decision making process for the tender is being prepared and it is determined whether the choice of the wind turbines should be based on maximum megawatt hours or on a better financial return. Pulles: “A larger generator at this height is relatively more expensive. The decision has not yet been made but we notice that many people prefer more green megawatt hours.”

Example project

To what extent can this project serve as an example? That really depends on the municipality, Pulles says. Some municipalities are already very busy with area developments, such as residential areas and business parks. Then the risks of developing a sustainable energy project are not that much different. Meanwhile, all municipalities are working on the Regional Energy Strategies, so there is more expertise and awareness. However, some municipalities find it difficult administratively to do it themselves or do not get all officials on board. There are of course risks involved. The most risky phase is until you have the permit. The investment adds up to a couple of hundred thousand euros, regardless of the outcome.

On the other hand, the financial returns from the wind farm are optimally distributed locally. An important advantage is that the municipality is at the heart of local society and can therefore best involve various stakeholders in the process and balance the various interests. It is therefore to be encouraged, says Pulles, because you get a better mix: projects in which municipalities actively facilitate and a commercial developer or energy cooperative develops and projects in which the municipality does it all itself.

This article appeared in the September edition of Windpowernl magazine

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