Windmills in the Wolds
The open rolling landscape of our part of Huntingdonshire has always harnessed the power of the wind. Six villages within just a few miles of the Park had windmills to mill corn to provide the local population with flour for bread making. Further to the east, many mills were to be found in the Cambridgeshire fens where they were mostly used for drainage, pumping water to drain the land.
Old wooden post mills stood in many of our local villages for centuries, with one of the oldest records at Old Weston going back to the 1700s and still standing in 1919. The post mill at Alconbury was blown down in a storm in 1936, and only a couple of years before in 1934, the tower mill at Winwick was demolished. The post mill at Spaldwick was burnt down in 1881 and replaced by a brick tower mill which is now ruined. Another old post mill at Great Gidding was demolished as early as 1820 to be replaced by a then modern brick tower mill, which later fell into disrepair after being converted to alternative power. This has since been converted into a private house, as has the smock mill at Sawtry.
The windmills which served the people of the county for hundreds of years, harnessed the free green energy of the wind in this open area. However they were hugely expensive to construct, and demanded the sort of hard, hazardous work which would not be considered acceptable these days. We are indeed cosseted by the cheap availability of fossil fuels which quickly rendered the old windmills obsolete. Modern design and technology has produced a machine equally beautiful in the eyes of many people, massively more efficient and requiring minimal maintenance and labour input. Today’s modern turbines continue the old tradition of harnessing nature’s most abundant power resource, and we are very proud to have been able to initiate such an important project.
Following a protracted research and planning phase taking several years, our first wind turbines were erected in 2011. Two small Danish made Gaia turbines each generating a maximum of 11kW of electricity, were chosen. These are efficient and well proven, and although obvious from the outset that they would not meet all the Parks power requirements, we were not in a position to install anything larger as funding was not available.
The 11kW Gaia turbine has a single double ended propeller-type blade, and ours were mounted on lattice towers reminiscent of those used for the old wind-powered water pumps used in the deserts of America and Australia. The site chosen was towards the top of a south-east facing ridge in an open elevation to the north of the Park, which proved to very suitable as their first years production exceeded the manufacturer’s expectations by around 15%.
Modern wind turbines require a minimal concrete foundation base and can be erected (and indeed dismantled if necessary) in just a few days, with only a few lorry movements on and off site.
Our Project to Date
Following the successful operation of the two original Gaia turbines, finance became available which allowed us to consider their possible replacement, and in November 2012 they were replaced by two Endurance E-3120 turbines. The original Gaia machines were easily dismantled and were sold via a dealer and re-erected to continue production, as the expected working life of these modern machines is well in excess of 20 years. Even at the end of their working lives all the components of the machine can be refurbished and re-used.
The Endurance turbine is manufactured in Canada, and its three blades sit atop a slender 36m tall mono-pole tower producing an aesthetically pleasing modern design of especially slim proportions. The design is highly efficient and the turbines at Hamerton can often be seen turning and generating in wind speeds too low to start the blades of larger wind-farm turbines. The design is also extremely quiet and these machines are often used by schools and universities in North America to power their campuses; where a more enlightened opinion prevails and the technology is embraced.
On average, the turbines at Hamerton currently produce a little more power than the Park consumes making us (at the moment at least) a net producer of energy, and generate 175,000 kW hours of electricity each, annually. They have proved reliable, quiet, extremely attractive and are ignored by our animals both wild and domestic, having no impact on them whatsoever.
As the Park continues to develop our energy demands increase, and it is expected that our current position as a (slight) net producer will be short lived. Although an ever increasing animal collection puts continuing demands on power, this is always outstripped by the requirements of our visitors. As a tourist attraction the Park is visited by more people than any other such Park in the county, and is the largest local employer and rate-payer. Enlarged and improved public amenities are planned, and increasing numbers of winter and spring visitors demanding the same facilities that they would find in the summer, increase this burden further.
As a result expansion of our renewable energy generation projects are planned. A solar photo-voltaic installation is already up and running producing relatively modest amounts of power, but complimenting the wind turbines nicely, as it does so when the latter are less productive in the quieter summer months. A biomass boiler is being installed to heat a number of the animal buildings with hot water piped under their floors.
The Politics of Power
Our most important development plans involve the installation of two further Endurance wind turbines to the east of the current pair, which will future proof our energy needs and provide an income stream to advance our development plans. Our site has proved very effective for this technology, the turbines have proved themselves, the installers have been excellent and maintenance has proved exactly what was forecast. Due to the placing of these new turbines, we will be able to allow access to the public and to visiting educational groups to view one machine at close quarters, plus an interpretation Centre with interactive displays provided by the manufacturers and installers.
These exciting plans have been taken to planning appeal as the support given to our projects in the past by Huntingdonshire District Council has been withdrawn this time even though the application was carefully structured to comply with all of their pre-published County Structure Plans. A small minority of local objectors produce a seemingly endless stream of unsubstantiated objections aimed at delaying the process. Details of some of the quite bizarre statements made can be seen on the Councils web-site where they are all published.
Please see our separate section 'Some Facts and Figures' for more details.