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The Here We Are Story - past, present and future

HIB-000 - How It Began

In 2005 we were preparing an exhibition on Power: Past and Present. We had information on –

  • the 18-century mill on the Kinglas river;
  • a 1905 micro hydro turbine constructed for Ardkinglas mansion house, the first house in Scotland built with electricity installed;
  • the big Power from the Glens hydro schemes of the 1950s: we had been given large sheets of hand-drawn plans for the local Shira and Larige Schemes;
  • the proposed wind turbines on Clachan Flats: we had diagrams. 

Just at that time, Ian Stewart visited.  His father Jimmy had been a joiner on Ardkinglas Estate until all the family emigrated to New Zealand in the 1950s. Ian told us that in the 1940s Jimmy had created one-bulb electricity for their house. At that time everyone depended on oil lamps. Jimmy had found an old wheel on the shore and with it constructed a turbine in the burn by their house.

Jimmy’s light bulb story was inspirational. Christina Noble wrote in HWA’s 2005 newsletter:

Now our ideas are soaring, we plan to do something real for ourselves at Cairndow, we want to generate our own heat and power and reduce our carbon footprint’.

Within months, we decided the proposed exhibition would cover:

  •  an examination of past use of energy in Cairndow;
  •  an audit of energy used today; 
  •  how to reduce carbon emissions and establish Cairndow as a low-carbon community;
  • working with schools on energy use and conservation;
  •  exploring whether we could generate power for sustainable revenue for HWA and to benefit the community;
  • commissioning a feasibility study to establish what form of renewable energy might be possible;
  • and in the process “empowering” our community to be better able to do things for itself.

Here We Are had been dependent on grant funding from Trusts and government departments. But fundraising was becoming increasingly difficult, so the possibility of generating income of our own was exciting. 

Looking back from 2021, it seems extraordinary that things happened so quickly. During that same summer, 2005, we had been granted money towards our planned Power exhibition: £4,000 from Awards For All (Lottery Fund), £5,000 from Nicola Riley, who worked with an Irish wind energy company Airtricity and £1,000 from Roy Foster’s Hydro development company. We began to plan not just an exhibition – but a possible new hydro scheme:

Power Exhibition 2005 Nicola Riley, Virginia Sumsion, Peter MacDonald, Mandy Cameron, Gregor Cameron, Unknown, Alistair MacCallum, John MacDonald, Kara Chalmers, Unknown
  • Land Use Consultants (LUC) Glasgow agreed to do the graphics;
  • The Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company agreed to help fund a feasibility study;
  • Wind power engineer Colin Anderson agreed to write a brief for the tender. He had worked with the community wind project on Gigha, (and back in 1990 he had been commissioned by Johnny Noble to do an audit of electricity used in Cairndow);
  • Andrew Lyle, of an Edinburgh based renewable power company Renewable Devices, won the tender to do the feasibility study.

Amazingly the exhibition Power Past, Present and Future was ready to open on Friday 2nd September 2005.

The Speakers were Brian Wilson, former minister of energy in the UK government, and Charles Reppke, Director of Corporate Affairs, Argyll Bute Council.            

Brian Wilson


Looking back, the essentials have been:

  • Ideas;
  • determination and tenacity;
  • people you trust who have relevant expertise;
  • funds – for the monetary value but also because of the credibility they give a project;
  • local participation;
  • examples of success in similar ventures elsewhere, in this case Gigha and Tiree community turbines;
  • an aptitude for attracting government and media attention.

The two most essential are a steadfast committee and courageous staff – “I’ve never done this before but I’ll give it a go” (said by someone when asked to prepare a leaflet for a public meeting, but an often expressed enthusiasm).

And colleagues who are ready to have some fun.

There are so many things outside your control in a project like this: and there’s always a default to a slow response. For example:

  • Land owners
  • Planners
  • Lawyers
  • Engineers.

During the autumn Lorna worked with local schools raising awareness on energy efficiency by providing energy meters to each pupil for a competition.

Strachur Primary School Children with energy meters

In January 2006, Andrew Lyle of Renewable Devices gave a presentation on the findings from the feasibility study in Cairndow village hall. 

He had identified three projects for further assessment, with advantages and drawbacks:

1. A wood-chip biomass heating system to supply the Lakeland Smolts, a salmon hatchery and smolts plant (the soil, the mild climate and the long hours of light mean trees grow well here, providing an abundant source of fuel);

2. A ‘low head’ mini hydro project on the river Kinglas, lying within Ardkinglas Estate policies and causing too much disruption to the infrastructure of roads and local industry;

3. A mini hydro project on the upper river Fyne: the landowner had objections.

It emerged that the option favoured by the meeting was thewood-chip biomass heating system, to provide heat to Lakeland Smolts, which sits at the estuary of the River Kinglas, just below the village.

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