January 12, 2009 / 11:29 AM / 10 years ago

Look past the UFO "mystery" at the green power

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The story of a wind turbine damaged in mysterious circumstances in northeast England flew round the world last week.

Power-generating windmill turbines are seen at a wind park in Vauvillers near Amiens, northern France December 29, 2008. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Although it turned out to be fireworks rather than flying saucers that caused the “orange glow” seen around the time the turbines were damaged, the publicity was welcomed by Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity, the company which owns the giant turbine.

Twenty years ago Vince was living in an old truck in a field near Nympsfield, a village in the British county of Gloucestershire. Today he is sole owner of Britain’s largest privately held electricity company, worth a reported 100 million pounds ($150.7 million).

It all started when he tried to put a small turbine in the field next to his van. The locals objected, and once Vince had planning permission for the small turbine, he found it easy to win permission for a bigger turbine, providing power under contract to Stroud District Council. That was the beginning of his green electricity empire.

“For most of my life I have felt like an anachronism, something out of time and place,” Vince said. “I was 12 when I started to worry about oil running out and that led me to drop out and live the life I led - a vegetarian, concerned about animal cruelty - all these issues that have come into the mainstream in the last few years.”

Vince went on the television news to talk up the UFO “mystery” and assure listeners that his company was doing all it could to determine the cause of the damage.

He has discovered a knack for playing the media game, and has adopted a strategy of attempting daredevil feats to garner attention, such as his attempt to break the world wind-powered speed record in his car the Greenbird in Australia’s salt flats.

With just 35,000 retail and 3,000 business customers, Ecotricity is still small compared to energy giants with millions of customers. But most who know the 47-year-old vegan, would bet the company continues its explosive growth for some years to come.

Ecotricity’s new finance Director is Matthew Robinson, was formerly joint MD of Triodos, the Dutch ethical Bank, which had bankrolled the company to its present position.

“You could hardly imagine a bigger vote of confidence,” says Vince.

They make a strange duo - the buttoned down banker, and Vince, habitually dressed in scruffy jeans and trainers, arriving for work on his motorbike.

“Its less polluting than a car,” he says.

At home, where Vince lives with his wife and young baby, he has also taken steps to green his surroundings.

“Solar thermal on the roof, air source heat pump, heat store, insulation in all the floors, drylined all the old stone walls,” Vince reels off the list in a staccato fashion.

He is even using an old, underground tank to help re-route rainwater to his toilets.

“I hate packaging on vegetables and fruits, I do what I can. I compost - which is really important. I’d love to have the time to grow food.”

Vince is a strong believer that meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans consume a very different level of resource.

“It takes 10 times more land to feed a meat eater than a vegan. We need to eat more efficiently. It’s only been in the last 50 years that we have been eating in such vast quantities in the west.”

For now, Vince is concentrating on growing his business and completing development on a prototype electric car that goes from 0-60 faster than a Ferrari. You can follow developments on his blog: Zerocarbonista.com.

($1=.6636 Pound)

Editing by Paul Casciato

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