Project manager Dan McCallum is in charge of day-to-day operations at Awel Aman Tawe, a community energy charity based in South Wales since 1998. AAT has many years’ experience of developing renewable energy schemes including wind, solar, biomass and hydro; and implementing energy efficiency measures across thousands of homes and community centres in south Wales. It set up solar power co-operative, EGNI, and has also pioneered an £8m community wind farm project, Awel Co-op, which is backed by over 800 people via a community share offer.
Why did you take on the role?
I have been in the job 18 years and was one of the founding members of AAT. We started in 1998 following a Local Agenda 21 meeting about sustainable development projects – and wind energy was suggested. At that time it was a very new idea, so we started to look at funding and consulted with the community. We asked 8,000 homes in a local referendum, secured more funding from the EU and carried out an impact assessment on the wind farm. We applied for planning permission for five turbines and eventually got consent for two, but they have only been constructed this year. It’s been a long time but I have always been committed and determined. In the meantime we developed other renewable energy projects, set up EGNI and installed solar PV panels on seven different community buildings.
Can you describe a typical day?
At the moment, because we are doing the community share offer for the wind farm, we are publicising that and learning more about things like social media. Over the last year it’s been more about managing construction as the turbines have been getting built. It’s my job to make the project happen, co-ordinate everything and make sure everyone is doing their jobs, so I’ve been liaising with the engineers, technical consultants, community funders and lawyers. It’s been really hectic, a massive job.
What’s your co-op’s difference?
The idea was born right here in the Swansea Valley where the coal mining industry was around for hundreds of years. A lot of people supported the project because they knew what devastation the mining industry brought here through diseases like silicosis. We are still surrounded by slag heaps. We are a community benefit society so profits are spent on local environmental projects, renewable energy schemes and promoting cycling walking and running. Another difference is our commitment to the project – given the length of time it has taken, most commercial developers would have walked away. It is the largest community share offer ever done in Wales, in one of the most deprived parts of the UK. In addition to developing practical solutions, we are also committed to raising awareness of climate change through a sustained programme of information, communication and consultation with hundreds of schools and community groups.
What is the best thing about the job?
The support we have had through the community share offer – and the excitement when the turbines got delivered! People are really pleased to see the wind farm project happening.
And the hardest?
The hardest thing has been the length of time it has taken. My daughters have now left home and are 19 and 21. They were babies when we started. I joke that we have replaced them with wind turbines…
What achievement are you proudest of?
Getting local support for the wind farm, which manifested itself in people becoming interested in the share offer – and raising the amount of money we did in a former coal mining community. Over the course of construction there were some 40 jobs on site and there are going to be four jobs directly maintained by the wind farm with over 800 members of the co-op and some charities that have joined as well so that is pretty positive.
If you could set up a brand-new co-operative tomorrow, what would it be?
I would like to expand the work we do with EGNI and try to find more sites for solar panels, working with the Wales Co-operative Centre. I am also interested in housing co-operatives so that is something I might look at in the future. A lot of the housing round here is not very good quality and we need more affordable homes.
What do you now know about co-ops that you wish you knew on your first day?
It’s been a most dynamic structure and given us a lot of members who are very knowledgeable. It would have would have been good if we had set up the co-op sooner so we could have had more expertise drawn in earlier on. We had to learn everything as we went along, from legal speak to contracts. It’s been very challenging to me learning about different aspects of the wind project, so it would have been good to get advice earlier.
Where would you like to see AAT in the next five years?
I am speaking to you from my house, where I can see the turbines turning. I would like to see another 10 turbines up on the hill! There has been more and more support for the project since we started and there is plenty of space. There are some people who have not joined the community share offer this time and I would like to build more confidence in the project.