£5m wind turbine plan could reduce campus energy use by a third

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Lancaster’s drive to reduce its ‘carbon footprint’ is set to take a significant step forward following proposals to build two wind turbines on the University’s Hazelrigg site to the east of the M6 motorway.

If built, the 2.3 Megawatt turbines could potentially reduce the university’s energy consumption by a third, equivalent to the utility requirements of all students who live on campus.

Funding for the project is to come from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) as part of their £10m ‘Transformational Fund’, which aims to promote innovative approaches to sustainable energy at universities across the country. Lancaster’s proposals, said by deputy chief executive of HEFCE, Steve Egan, to be “exceptional”, were awarded £5m – half of the overall funding available. The university was one of only three out of 37 applicants to win funding.

The university’s environment and sustainability manager, Jonathan Mills, said: “we’re very positive and very enthusiastic about the proposal. It’s the sort of project we need to implement, the first stage in trying to really significantly cut carbon emissions and introduce a nearly zero source of electricity.”

“Anything that takes away the use of non-efficient energy is a good thing. It’s a step in the right direction and we should be at the forefront, being a green university,” added LUSU’s green officer, Michael Keegan.

However, the building of wind turbines has often shown provoked public resistance, as demonstrated by the efforts of Lancaster-based Wind Direct to secure planning permission to build a wind turbine in nearby Garstang last year. When the developer’s proposals were bought to the local council, there were over 300 objections to the plan. But following an appeal to the government, Wind Direct’s plans were controversially approved in April of this year.

Development of wind energy is becoming increasingly prominent across the North West, following the government’s announcement that it is aiming to reduce carbon emissions nationally by 26% for the year 2020 and 80% by 2050.

Stephen Booth, chair of Ellel Parish Council, told the Lancaster Guardian: “I’ve got mixed feelings about the proposal. I support it on the grounds of the environment. But on the other hand, I’d be bothered about the disruption caused to the community when they bring everything through the area, and start having to build access roads”.

The university is currently in the process of monitoring popular opinion towards the project. Future consultation with Lancaster City Council is planned, as is a full public consultation to be held later in the summer.

As yet Mr Mills is unsure of the level of resistance from local residents but hopes it will be low. ‘It’s difficult to say. In previous cases [where resistance was encountered] there were usually site specific issues – they were on a different scale to ours and much larger,’ he said. ‘I’ve looked at surveys on public perception of wind turbines and 70-80% of the population are positive about them.’

If the project does go ahead as intended, construction of the turbines, which would measure 125m from the ground to the top of the blades, could begin as soon as early 2010.

Completion of the project would be a key component in the University’s Sustainable Energy strategy. This includes replacement of the campus’s outdated boiler system as well as the installation of meters to measure the consumption of electricity, gas and water in all the campus’s major buildings.

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