Tayside’s latest proposed solar farm could provide much of the power for the James Hutton Institute and earn communities up to a million pounds.
The project sees non-profit groups unite with energy co-operatives and the research centre to create a fresh solar array on the western edge of Dundee, straddling the Perthshire border.
The plans are likely to delight many and worry those concerned about the visual amenity of the area, although those behind the plans say a barrier of trees will remain between the field and the A90.
So, how did this unusual bold and unusual project come about and who is behind driving it forward?
The Australian whose disillusion with private sector led to Scottish renewables
Tom Nockolds moved to Scotland about eight years with his Aberdeenshire-born wife.
Tom, from Sydney, was a project manager for a number of top law firms Down Under.
But he became disillusioned and gave it all up to work in more community-minded fields.
He said: “I was working in top floors of those high-rise buildings in Sydney.
“You hear stories by motivational speakers and they say ‘one day I quit my job and walked out and it was the best thing I ever did’ and you think, ‘yeah, sure’.
“Well, that’s what I did.
“I was feeling increasingly disillusioned about working for the corporate sector in a law firm who at the time were doing a lot of work for fossil fuel projects around the world.”
I am a big believer in thinking globally but acting locally.”
Richard McCready, DRES director
After quitting, Tom volunteered in various places and began hearing about “community energy”. It was a new concept in Australia at the time.
He said: “I thought, ‘that’s it, that’s the thing for me’.
“It just hit my desires to work on something more positive and I threw myself into it headlong.”
Within four months he was invited to join Community Power Agency, Australia’s only dedication support organisation for community energy at that time.
After about six years there, he ditched the sun and sand of Australia for the cold and sand of Scotland and quickly joined Energy4All.
The Dundee councillor who sees impact of climate change on city residents
Richard McCready will be no strangers to readers of The Courier.
The Dundee West End councillor has been vocal on matters such as the upcoming low emission zone and air quality along Lochee Road.
But aside from his councillor duties, Richard also promotes green initiatives as a director of DRES.
While his involvement in the solar project is not connected to his local authority role, Richard admits he can’t “entirely divorce” being a councillor from other activities.
He said: “You see social inequality and how it’s people who can’t afford to move somewhere else and they’re the ones who are really suffering the consequences first.
“My interests in the climate are linked to my interests with the council.”
Because the James Hutton solar plans straddle both the Perth & Kinross and Dundee council areas, a planning application will come before Dundee City Council, which Richard will have to abstain from voting on.
New #solarenergy co-op project launched in Scotland by @DRESDundee and @JamesHuttonInst hopes to raise £10k a year for community #coops #renewables @Energy4AllLtd https://t.co/4uQDnpi8Gp pic.twitter.com/nx2OsA1w48
— Co-operative News (@coopnews) September 28, 2021
He has always been aware of the importance of the climate, but it truly hit home after he became a councillor in 2007.
“Seeing the affect it was having locally was a big thing,” he said.
“I am a big believer in thinking globally, but acting locally.”
He thinks the co-operative method of delivering such a project is the way forward.
“Over 20 years we hope to give around a million pounds back to the community.
“If this project comes off it will be done with local people, as opposed to being done to local people.
“We hope it will lead to investment for further projects.”
Richard added: “We need to learn how to walk before we can run.”
The piper who thinks the market may be the climate’s saviour
Alex Urquhart-Taylor is also involved in the plans as a member of DRES.
Alex, from Perth, has a background in music and works as a web designer.
The James Hutton Institute solar project is his first foray into renewables.
“This is a great project. I really want to make it happen,” he said.
“It’s something I feel should be happening more widely and I wanted understand what the problems associated with such a project were, and how you can make it successful.
“Basically, how the whole system works.”
Alex would like to take the lessons learned from the James Hutton experience to other projects in the future.
His interest in the environment took hold while studying physics at university.
“It’s very hard to be in science… and not be aware of what’s going on,” he said.
But despite dire warnings from climate experts, Alex “remains an optimist”.
“Ironically, the reason I remain an optimist is down to corporate pressures,” he adds.
“Because green and renewable technologies have reached a point where they’re now more competitive than fossil fuel technologies, we might be in a strange situation where the market forces solve the problem very, very quickly.”