It was billed as the UK’s first urban wind farm. But bright hopes of it spearheading an energy revolution a decade ago have faded. Instead, some of the distinctive turbines adjacent to the main railway line and A63 in and out of Hull are set to be dismantled later this week.
Wind turbines to be dismantled
Business owner Andrew Fenton, who provided the land in Priory Park next to his commercial design studio for the development, puts their failure down to the government’s decision in 2015 to scrap subsidies and ban planning permission for new onshore wind projects. At the time, the then prime minister David Cameron claimed the public was “fed up” with onshore wind farms.
The move delighted Tory MPs in rural areas where vociferous local campaigns had been mounted against clusters of large wind turbines in open countryside like those seen across the East Riding. However, it also delivered a hammer blow to a developing manufacturing sector specialising in small-scale wind turbines looking to deploy them in urban settings.
Among them was Quiet Revolution, the company which installed the first two turbines at the site in Priory Park. Within a year of the government’s decision, it went into liquidation.
“Instead of the government supporting clean renewable energy, they just pulled the plug. After that, they concentrated on giving huge subsidies to offshore wind which was always going to be much more expensive because of the logistics involved in developing huge turbines capable of operating in the middle of the North Sea.
“By halting onshore wind farms in the countryside, they also effectively stopped the roll-out of much smaller turbines designed to work in urban areas. It was a very short-sighted decision.”
Government moves away from green technology
While some similar urban projects in the UK attracted criticism for failing to generate sufficient power, Fenton said the Hull turbines delivered. “Along with our rooftop solar panels, they provided all the electricity we needed to run a two-storey building and a warehouse.”
Shaped like giant egg whisks, the two Quiet Revolution turbines were followed by six more conventional ones provided by an investment company to operate a pilot project providing power directly to the National Grid.
“The potential was there to create a local mini-grid, supplying power to nearby businesses as well as exporting the rest to the National Grid”, said Fenton.
“We were a bit of a test bed. Our location was a good one being quite open and close to the Humber estuary. Others did less well because of where they were sited and the impact of surrounding buildings.
“The six turbines here provided what is known as power at source because the power they generated was fed directly into a nearby sub-station whereas with an offshore wind farm, you need a lot of power just to get the electricity to shore and that’s all part of the extra cost.”
Another missed opportunity
Quiet Revolution’s liquidation and a resulting shortage of suppliers caused by the sector’s collapse eventually left him with no one to service them. Despite generating enough electricity and more, he was reluctantly forced to switch them off.
“I know some people with similar turbines in farmland areas kept them on even though there was no one to service them. Because of where we are, doing that would have been a bit more risky, particularly if the brakes failed to work properly during strong winds. I didn’t fancy seeing a headline about a train arriving at Paragon Station with a wind turbine blade stuck in its roof!
“I’ve seen one similar turbine on the M62 which is so weathered and filthy but it is still spinning. If it hasn’t been cleaned for years I’m sure it hasn’t been serviced recently either.”
While the government recently lifted its ban on onshore wind schemes, a new competitive bidding system to secure limited funding support for projects means it’s unlikely that many new urban wind farms will be in the pipeline anytime soon. Fenton believes it’s another missed opportunity.
“Wind power, whether it’s offshore or onshore, has to be the way forward but now all the talk is about fracking. It’s crazy”, he said.