As the fate of onshore wind in the UK made its way into the national news last week another piece of related news didn’t make quite the splash as the government’s abolition of the onshore wind subsidies. However this news nugget perhaps deserved as much coverage as it confirmed the important contribution that onshore wind is making to hundreds of communities throughout the country.
Research by Local Energy Scotland showed that in 2014 Scotland’s onshore wind industry contributed £8.8million to community projects, the highest ever amount and that the contributions offered to local communities by companies operating onshore turbines in their area are being spent in “a huge number of remarkably diverse ways.”
Some of the various causes the contributions were spent on in 2014 included a new community hall in Daviot, Aberdeenshire, sending a dance school from West Lothian to the European Street Dance Championships in Germany and buying a thermal imaging camera so residents in Sutherland can see if and where their homes need extra insulation.
The details come from Local Energy Scotland Community Renewables Register which is updated on a regular basis in order to accurately calculate the current total raised and available. Chris Morris of Local Energy Scotland said: “The Register shows not just the financial value of Community Benefit funds, providing sustainable income to Scottish communities every year, but also shows what can be achieved with the revenue.
“We strongly encourage developers and communities alike to visit the Register and browse the information available, and of course upload information of any schemes in which they are involved.”
As community contributions tend to made on an annual basis the register shows that at least £8.8million will be donated in community contributions every 12 months for the next ten years at least, and despite the retraction of subsides this is still expected to grow for another two years as projects of all scales from 225kW single turbine instillations to Scotland’s largest wind farm at Whitlee contribute towards their local communities.
Scottish Renewables Senior Policy Manager Joss Blamire welcomed the news stating “This new figure shows quite clearly the huge contribution green energy projects are making to communities across Scotland. Without onshore wind, many of the worthy projects which have been supported so far simply could not have gone ahead.
“Community Benefit payments are just a part of the overall picture here: onshore wind in Scotland is delivering clean energy and jobs and investment, as well as helping meet our 2020 climate change targets.
“Onshore wind employs almost 3,400 people in Scotland, and latest figures show that the sector invested more than £700 million in the country in the year to September 2014. Community Benefit payments, which can last for up to 20 years, are just part of that picture – but they’re a part which is increasingly important to some of Scotland’s most remote areas.”
Fergus Ewing Scotland’s Energy Minister explained that Community Benefit can improve lives, “These figures demonstrate how community benefits from renewables offer an unprecedented opportunity to improve people’s lives.
“Over £8.5 million invested in such diverse projects in the last year demonstrates a great level of commitment from developers, large and small, to ensuring that green energy developments harness not only the wind, but the goodwill of local communities.”
Dr Richard Dixon a Director at Friends of the Earth Scotland speaking of the announcement said, “Communities across Scotland are benefiting from renewable energy schemes in their area. Communities should be encouraged to take ownership of these projects so that they further benefit from the transition away from dirty energy. Community ownership allows people to have control over their energy future and builds broader support for renewables.
“Community power is a big success story in Scotland but we can do so much more. We are urging the Scottish Government to increase their current target for community and locally owned energy for 2020 and to set an even more ambitious target for 2030.
“People across Scotland are already implementing real, proven solutions to climate change. The energy revolution has begun, and leaders must support it and commit to keeping fossil fuels in the ground.”
The impact that these contributions can have upon the local communities should not be underestimated. There is no obligation for developers and operators to make any contribution but most understand the importance of giving back to community that they operate within.
In most cases anyone, whether it be an individual or a group, can apply to become a beneficiary either as a one off or as an ongoing recipient. Causes have to be both local and worthwhile and as long as these two factors can be demonstrated then some amount of contribution may be forthcoming. Even if the fund is oversubscribed normally the potential recipient can reapply the following year.
As mentioned above the beneficiaries are varied but most importantly it is open to everyone in the community. Projects like this can help build better relationships between the developer operator and the community as they all focus on a common goal.
As the lifespan for most turbines is 20 years and a large number of these in Scotland have yet to reach half of that the overall contribution fund is expected to be at least maintained for the next 10 years. Beyond it will depend on new instillations contributing to their local communities however with the retraction of the subsidies for onshore wind making it unlikely that many more new projects will now go ahead the overall amount contributed is likely to level off soon and then start the reduce.
When you see and hear the stories of the beneficiaries you understand why this is an unfortunate side effect of the UK government’s change in policy.
The Local Energy Scotland Community Renewables Register can be accessed here http://www.localenergyscotland.org/view-the-register/