Wind power has entered a new era on a South Lanarkshire hillside as the first generation of turbines is being decommissioned.
Twenty-eight years after Hagshaw Hill began producing power as Scotland’s first commercial wind farm, it has been approved for “re-powering”.
The owner, Scottish Power Renewables, plans to build fewer but larger turbines.
Where those coming down have their nascelle, or generator unit, 35 meters (114 ft) above the ground, the new ones can be as high as 140 meters (460 ft).
And with improvements in blade design and turbine efficiency, each installation will be able to extract up to 10 times more energy from the wind than the one they replace, with a rated capacity of six megawatts.
Scottish Power Renewables says the 14 larger turbines they intend to install on the site near the village of Douglas will produce five times the power of the 26 old turbines they are replacing.
However, there are concerns from the industry that re-enablement will be delayed and become much more costly due to lengthy planning processes.
The application to repower the Hagshaw Hill Wind Farm was first submitted in December 2018. It was approved in February 2020.
Replacement turbines require an entirely new building permit. But Charlie Jordan, CEO of Scottish Power Renewables, says they can be accelerated because so much information is already available about the sites.
“We’ve been operating this site for almost 30 years,” he said. “We know everything about the site from an environmental perspective and we should use the information to speed up the planning of repowering projects.”
New planning guidelines, published this year by the Scottish Government, say future planning approvals should be “forever”.
However, the re-permission requirement is seen as an opportunity to ensure that local communities benefit more financially from the profits now being made by wind farm operators.
When first installed they required large subsidies, but the cost and efficiency of the technology has come down sharply so that they are now commercially viable to install on land.
The current phase of the process at Hagshaw Hill, which began earlier this month, is to dismantle the turbines. On Wednesday, the seventh of 26 turbines was removed, while the sixth was removed by trucks.
Ryan Walker, project manager for crane and haulage specialist Forsyth of Denny, says it’s not about demolition, it’s about reversing the construction process.
While larger turbines require each blade to be removed individually, these smaller and older turbines allow all three to be lifted at once.
Weather permitting atop the 500-meter hill, a team of 11 contractors using three c
ranes will hoist the turbines, nascelles and steel towers at a rate of one a day before removing the concrete foundations.
The re-energization will gain momentum across Scotland as other turbines reach the end of an expected life of 25 years, some reaching 30 years.
They suffer from component wear and weather damage to the blades, and are also much less efficient than the turbines they will replace.
More than 11,000 wind turbines have been installed in Britain, with many more planned for offshore. And while most of a turbine can be recycled, including the steel towers and components in the gearing and generator, more than 33,000 blades pose a challenge.
Many replaced blades have so far been sent to the landfill. In some cases they can be burned. But as substitution begins, the industry is looking for ways to reuse or recycle them instead.
ReBlade is a company, based in Glasgow and Dumfriesshire, with plans to build a repurposing factory. Run by Fiona and Steven Lindsay, former Scottish Power employees, the demonstration projects include park benches and furniture.
It today announced a contract with SSE to use former wicks as shelters in Dundee for electric vehicle charging points.
The skills required to cut extremely durable composite fiberglass are not available in Scotland, so it went to a boat building company near Colchester.
Fiona Lindsay says wind farm operators want to find ways to avoid sending the blades to landfill, and will pay to have them reused.
A longer-term financial basis has yet to be negotiated, but ReBlade hopes to employ hundreds of people in materials recycling by the end of the decade, with plans to open a remanufacturing facility in the Dumfries area.