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Town's green aspirations are anything but a pipe dream

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: June 21, 2012

  • Environmental group FREE says the wind turbines and solar panels will not harm the 'postcard' image of Fowey

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As you pull in to Fowey, a faded off-white sign welcomes you to an "ancient" town.

Its seafaring reputation was built on the voyages of Sir Francis Drake, among others, who sailed from the South East Cornwall community's waters. Throughout the town, a few centuries-old buildings hint at its former life, before the tourists and their 4x4 vehicles descended to enjoy the magnificent harbourside views.

Its place in Britain's literary hall of fame is secured thanks to the work of one of its most famous former residents, thriller writer Daphne du Maurier, whose works, including Rebecca, were penned after falling in love with the town in the 1920s. Tales of the dashing, debonair Maxim de Winter and the regal setting of Manderley create an air of Victorian Britain, which remains an integral part of the town's make-up.

But there are changes afoot. Concerns about the impact of climate change on the earth's resources have forced communities across the country to investigate how they can offer solutions to the anticipated problems with our energy supply. Against a backdrop of high fuel poverty – where at least 10% of household income is spent heating the home – it seems that Fowey is perhaps as good as anywhere to start a renewable energy revolution.

Add in to the mix a cash-back incentive for self-produced energy and a natural enthusiasm for innovation from its residents, and it is understandable to see why the Cornish community has already taken significant steps along the green trail. Furthermore, it has a lofty ambition firmly in its sights.

"This isn't a flight of fancy, it is entirely possible," said Christine Wharton, of Fowey Renewable Energy Enterprise (FREE), when asked about the likelihood of Fowey becoming the UK's first completely self-sufficient town.

"Cornwall is fantastically unrivalled for renewable energy. You get more bash for your buck here."

But while communities up and down the country are ploughing their funds into large-scale projects such as solar farms and towering wind turbines, Fowey is taking a different approach: little and often.

The first phase of their development, costing around £900,000, is for three small wind turbines and seven solar PV installations. Due to the size of the ten projects, all are assured a relatively straightforward route through the planning process. Some are on the popular Menabilly estate, though none of the plans impedes on the "picture-postcard" image of Fowey.

"We have had a surprising amount of support really," said Mrs Wharton, whose interest in green energy was first pricked as a journalist on Fleet Street in the late 1980s.

"What people have yet to grasp is how much income this could provide for the town – potentially more than £100,000 annually."

All ten projects, once operational, would cover 10% of the town's electricity demand, while the income for generating green electric would pave the way for further developments and other technologies, as the town of 2,000 people edges closer to sustainability.

Perversely, while FREE's ideas are sailing through still waters locally, a cloud of indecision hangs over national renewable energy policy.

Cuts to the Feed-in Tariff cash-back scheme for solar have seen large-scale projects consigned to the recycling bin.

And it is anticipated that ministers are about to announce a significant cut to the value of the Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) – the financial incentive for wind. But there is optimism from Fowey.

Neil Farrington, from the Cornwall-based Community Energy Plus charity, said: "It is very easy to talk about making Fowey sustainable; it is a case of being realistic. A lot of communities across the country have plans, it's where they go next which sets Fowey apart because Fowey's plans are quite advanced.

"Fowey is going to be the first example in Cornwall and probably across the UK which has this number of completed plans. That is something to celebrate."

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  • TheodoreV  |  June 21 2012, 4:52PM

    The first priority should be conservation of energy not provision of alternative supply. The government and industry should first and foremost direct the money at reducing consumption of electricity and other fuels. There is still massive waste of heat that can be reduced by improved insulation. Instead of wasting money on unreliable, expensive and intrusive windmills, the money should ensure no house is without at least adequate roof, and where appropriate wall insulation. For £900,000 many thousands of houses could be so treated, permanently reducing their power needs and providing warmer homes into the bargain.

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