In Scotland, as with many countries, the best sources of renewable energy are found in the more remote places. Open and higher spaces mean more wind, great for the onshore wind industry. Lochs, reservoirs, and rivers provide perfect source materials for hydro schemes and it is the offshore tides which surround our country’s coast that depending on technology may provide us with another source of reliable renewable energy.
While we may have the resources to produce high quantities of electricity via renewable sources, due to the location of the generation source it can be costly and difficult to get it the areas of high consumption, including our cities and towns.
As a result of this we are now seeing more community based renewable energy projects where the electricity produced is consumed within the local area, reducing costs and increasing the wellbeing of the community.
Renewable energy in Scotland started out as local solutions. The early hydro-electric schemes were designed and located in order to provide locally produced electricity to the growing aluminium mining industry which in turn led to the post war Power from the Glens scheme which brought the first electricity to remote communities in the north of Scotland.
In terms of both cost and infrastructure the closer we use the energy we generate to where we produce it the better. Communities throughout the country are therefore producing – or are about to start producing – their own energy from renewable sources using it to power their homes and businesses whilst at the same time help safeguard their environment.
Wind power is the main source of choice for many of the local schemes and more often developers in the onshore wind industry are identifying the advantages of including local communities in the projects.
This type of scheme, known as shared ownership, means that locals can involve themselves financially in the projects and share in the returns along with the developers.
Once of the first of such schemes was in Fintry, Stirlingshire in 2003 when developer Falck Renewables proposed to develop a wind farm five miles outside of the village. A local group negotiated for an additional turbine to be added to the application the income from which would go directly to them. Money was not invested by the local community; instead a loan was taken from the developer for their share of the capital costs which is repaid via some of the income generated by the turbine.
The community is now only a few years away from paying back the loan and is planning to build on the work already done with the revenue brought in so far including improved home and business insulation, household grants, and an energy advisor based in the village.
Other examples include Barra where a local community with a strong desire to have their own turbine were told that their location was just too remote by engineers. Undeterred they carried on and applied for planning permission on the back that a beach landing would be used for the delivery of crucial parts, the first time this had been done for this type of project.
The development in total cost £2.2million and is fully owned by the local population. Consent for the project was achieved when the community demonstrated their support for the project and showed how it could be developed technically. The now completed development has added almost a megawatt of renewable energy capacity to one of the remotest areas of the country.
In South Lanarkshire the Spirit Of Lanarkshire Wind Energy Co-operative raised £2.7million in 2013-14 (the actual figure was over £2.9million but this was oversubscribed and had to be scaled back) to purchased shares in two wind farms being constructed in Sandford near Strathaven and Clydesdale near Coalburn. Investors were able to purchase shares from £250 to a maximum of £20,000 and the initial return payment was made to shareholders in November 2014.
In October 2014 the Sunart Community Renewables Group launched a share offer in order to raise £284,000 to assist in the development of a run-river hydro scheme in Lochaber in the Scottish Highlands. Again the offer was over-subscribed, in total over £750,000 was raised but in this case all applicants received their intended share in the project as the Group then had only to top up their development capital with two small social enterprise loans.
These examples show the high levels of interest these types of developments generate locally and the desire from local communities to get involved. With a new draft community energy policy statement by the Scottish Government currently being produced it is expected that this interest will continue to grow.
The nature of renewable energy means that the majority of developments will be in rural areas so it makes sense for local communities to get involved if possible. Whether it be part or full ownership the benefits of investing in such projects are much more than merely financial. It helps bring the community closer together, working to achieve an energy secure future whilst helping maintain a clean, safe environment. Something they can all be proud of.