Gayle joins primary school kids for a trip to Udny Community Wind Turbine – and learns about wind power in a fun workshop.
While some folk reckon that wind turbines are a blot on the landscape, I find them surprisingly beautiful and awe-inspiring.
These are my thoughts as I stand directly beneath one a few miles from Pitmedden, in Aberdeenshire.
The location is superb – the turbine is surrounded by fields, and the bright yellow of oilseed rape, vibrant green of an early barley crop and brown of distant ploughed fields make a striking contrast against the imposing white tower.
With little fluffy clouds scudding across an azure sky, it’s an artist’s dream.
The turbine is an impressive beast – extending almost 80 metres into the sky, from the ground to the blade tip. Its average wind speed is 17mph, but it can reach 56mph before it cuts out to avoid damaging the turbine.
It’s owned by the community of Udny, which covers the villages of Udny Green, Pitmedden and Hattoncrook, and managed by Udny Turbine Company.
So, how does the community benefit by owning it?
Essentially, funds produced from selling locally-produced green energy are ploughed back into the area.
And since it began turning in 2011, it’s generated a lot of income for local people.
And, fun fact, it was the very first wholly community-owned, built, financed and operated wind turbine on the Scottish mainland.
Power to the people
I’m visiting along with primary six and seven pupils from Pitmedden Primary School as part of a project to educate young folk on renewable energy.
The aim is to help them grasp how wind power is harnessed to generate electricity, as well as understanding the positive impact the turbine has on the community.
Udny Community Trust chairman Brian McDougall kicks off by filling us in on how the gigantic structure works.
He asks us which way we think the wind is blowing (most of us have no idea), how many bolts we reckon hold the turbine down, and describes how it converts wind energy into electrical energy.
He mentions AC/DC – not the band – and informs us that it’s 50m to the top of the tower, and 79m to the very top of the wing tip.
“It needs a 4mph wind for it to start making electricity,” he explains. “The blades spin a rotor, which generates electricity.”
Clanking and whirring
There are loads of clanking, whirring and buzzing noises inside the turbine, and with knobs and buttons aplenty as well as flashing lights, it’s an exciting place to be. It would be even more exciting if we could climb the tower but, of course, that’s forbidden.
However, we’re allowed to try on harnesses and pretend – Brian is only ever so slightly anxious when I go beyond the first step on the ladder, which is a bit naughty of me.
Once we’ve listened and asked questions, we fill in a quiz. We then head along to The Medan Centre in Pitmedden – funded by Udny Community Trust and including Cafe48 – to create our very own wind turbine models.
Wind turbine models
Matt Kaye, one of the founding directors of both the Trust Company and the Community Wind Turbine Company, gives a demonstration and encourages us to think about which design spins the fastest, and why.
“You can have as many blades as you want – two, three, six, seven or eight – it’s up to you,” he says.
“They can be big, small, oblong or you can cut them into different shapes.”
The blades are then stuck on to cocktail sticks and drilled into corks, which will act as the turbine’s hubs. We get two cracks at it. If our first designs are rubbish, we’ll have a chance to improve them.
The results are interesting. Some designs have long blades and others have short ones. They’re all angled in different ways.
Turbines in action
Using a hairdryer, we’re able to see our turbines in action. The blades fly off one in seconds, but another design, with three blades, angled in such a way that it catches the “wind” well, spins for ages at top speed.
It’s all about aerodynamic force, lift and drag, and it’s a great way of demonstrating this concept to young folk.
Funds generated from the Trust are helping the Udny community in big ways, and educating people in the process.
“The turbine Gift-Aids its profit to the Trust – and we’ve Gift-Aided at least £1.5 million in the time we’ve been trading,” Matt tells me.
“Thirteen years ago, just before the turbine went up, we went round local schools letting them know about the concept of a ‘community turbine’, and the fact there would be money available to use locally – that they could use it to take responsibility for their community.
“If you work with children, you effectively work with their parents, too. The idea is we supply funds for people to do a lot of projects, many with an environmental focus.”
- As well as owning and operating The Medan Centre, the Trust runs everything from cuppa and blether sessions to swap shops and craft workshops. It’s always looking for volunteers to help run things, whether baby and toddler groups or “open doors” events.
- Udny Community Trust Company (UCTC) was established in 2011. It earns income for community projects and groups through the profit generated by the community-owned Udny Community Wind Turbine Company, a trading subsidiary. For details or to volunteer, see udnycommunitytrust.org.uk or the Trust’s Facebook page.