Dr Maitland Mackie discusses "a second agricultural revolution" based on community funding of wind energy assets

Dr Maitland Mackie, BSc (Agriculture), MA Hons (Economics), CBE, LL.D, FRAGS

Existing power companies are scouring the country for sites to build wind turbines. While this offers some profit for landowners Dr Maitland Mackie has other ideas. His recently formed company proposes that those in rural areas retain most, if not all, of the profits available – nothing less than a new agricultural revolution.

Maitland, a comparatively new member of the Claverton group, formed the idea for an energy company owned by the rural sector having seen the financial and aesthetic success of the turbines installed by his three offspring who now run the family dairy and ice cream business in Aberdeenshire (Maitland says he now basks in the reflected glory of their efforts). 

The original £2.5M investment for these three turbines will be returned inside four years, and the energy balance at the business is illustrated with some effect in the following histogram. The Mackie family have named their three turbines Margaret (becoming operational in April 2005), Mabel and Mirabel (operational July 2007): 
 
Within a matter of months his new company – Rural Sector WinGen Ltd. – has received 520 registrants on its website www.wingen.co.uk, indicating around £2.5million of start up investment and some 600 (self assessed) sites. Many of these registrants have indicated that they would not consider wind farming under any other circumstances. His target is £10million for the initial phase. As work progresses, he aims to install between 1000 and 30000 3MW turbines.

The installation of so many turbines will be no mean feat. RSWL will move from concept to reality when it is clear his target of £10million core funding – the “green share” of small investments from a multitude of investors particularly in the rural sector – is available. Maitland is quite aware that his most ambitious target of 30000 turbines would equate to one approximately every two square kilometres distributed throughout the rural areas of the UK. He is also very aware of the impending energy crisis within the UK.

To take his most ambitious example, 30000 turbines would provide 90GW peak; further assuming a conservative 25% load factor this would equate to just under 200TWh/yr, or slightly less than 60% of all present UK electricity production.

No mean feat indeed. However it should be noted that Maitland – as well as receiving an award for his work in the agricultural sector related to pig farming – has business involvements that include Aberdeen University Development Trust and Aberdeen University Court, is a former director of Lloyds TSB Scotland and a former chairman of both the Scottish Agricultural College and Scottish Enterprise Grampian. As well as serving on the Scottish Economic Council and being former vice-president of the National Farmers’ Union (Scotland) he enjoyed two five year terms on the Agriculture Food Research Council, is a past Governor of the Rowett Research Institute, a former board member of ‘Scotland the Brand’ and was Chairman of Grampian Enterprise.

One could say that he has industry contacts.

Investment at the first stage is limited to between £1000 and £20000 in order to ensure that no particular interests have control of the company, with these investors having first priority on later investment. Such investors are not limited to site owners. Maitland describes his own involvement as ‘99% mission orientated 1% entrepreneurial. The mission (99%) is to deliver to the stakeholders of the rural sector this huge potential financial gain, the entrepreneurial (1%) interest, is that I will be only one of the multitude of small original investors.’

As has been noted elsewhere the barriers to planning, grid connection etc. are formidable, especially for (small) individual investors and site owners. WinGen aims to aggregate these risks, and to a certain extent obviate them, since there will be local involvement from the very beginning.

The turbines themselves may prove to be just as great an obstacle, in that there has been a considerable backlog in manufacture, and the recent proposed closure of the Campbeltown manufacturing facility has shown both the need for bigger facilities and for – once again – more streamlined planning. Maitland proposes that should it be necessary a manufacturing company be set up to build the necessary turbines, perhaps under licence. This would have the added advantage of returning the £billions borrowed from the city (Maitland envisages a financial gearing of 80%) to the UK manufacturing sector, so rejuvenating, Clydeside, Teeside, or wherever may be deemed suitable.

Maitland’s key message is this – the fundamental requirement is rural sector buy in. Potential site owners contracting their sites to the company delivers both commercial and political power, allowing communities benefit from their own vista and land resources to the tune of up to £15billion a year.

From George Wallis

1 Comment

  1. Reply

    I had an afternoon with Maitland recently, and while he was interested in an alternative approach (he’s that sport of person), he is pretty much tied in to a conventional equity/debt structure.

    This will limit his chances of success I think, because:

    (a) the Credit Crunch affects the availability of interest-bearing debt for the proposed 80% gearing;

    (b) he is restricting participation in his Company/ IPS (not sure which it will be) by each individual in order not to give too much power to major investors.

    In the partnership model I advocate:

    (a) conventional debt could be replaced through unitising energy production from completed assets and selling part to investors; while

    (b) development investors in proportional “Equity Shares” could each have one vote matter how much money they put in.

    Companies are basically sub-optimal – that’s the truth of it.

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