Local power base will drive renewables

The Spirit of Lanarkshire co-operative raised almost �3m to buy stakes in two local wind farms. Picture: Contributed

The Spirit of Lanarkshire co-operative raised almost �3m to buy stakes in two local wind farms. Picture: Contributed

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SCOTLAND’S long history of home-grown energy continues, with communities reaping the benefits, writes Joss Blamire

Localism is often an unpopular concept, mired as it is in connotations of parochialism and insularity

Wind power provides the muscle behind many of these schemes

But, while looking inwards might not always be a good thing, increasingly as a society we are starting to see the benefits of keeping elements of our modern life closer to home.

Locally sourced produce is already a staple on restaurant menus, with the miles travelled by food inversely-proportional to its worth.

Renewable energy has always embraced localism – the first hydro-electric schemes were built to power Scotland’s burgeoning aluminium industry, and the sector continued its connection with home-grown electricity when the post-war Power from the Glens scheme brought the first energy to remote communities in the country’s far north.

For many reasons – climate change key among them – we’re now more aware than ever that travel costs, and that local is often best.

The closer we can produce the electricity and heat we use to the place where we’ll use it, the better. Villages and towns across the country – from Point on Lewis to Balerno near Edinburgh – are already producing, or are about to produce, their own power, using it to energise their ambitions for a cleaner, greener and more prosperous future.

Wind power provides the muscle behind many of these schemes, and increasingly businesses in the onshore wind sector are recognising the benefits of including communities in their projects.

This approach, known as shared ownership, means local people take a financial stake in a project, then reap the rewards alongside the developer once the machines are producing power.

Fintry in Stirlingshire was one of the first communities in the UK to take on the challenge of shared ownership. When developer Falck Renewables proposed to build a wind farm five miles from the village in 2003, local people negotiated for the addition of an extra turbine, income from which would come back to them.

No money was invested in the scheme, with the community taking on a loan from Falck for their share of the capital costs, which they service from the income generated.

The village is now only eight years away from paying back the loan, and is looking forward to building on work already completed with the income it brings, including improved home insulation, household grants, an energy adviser based in the village and bike hire.

The recent – and increasing – success of community share offers for renewable energy schemes, too, highlights the potential for more local involvement.

On Barra, the community’s enthusiasm for local wind power saw local people overcome huge challenges to secure their own energy future. After engineers said the site was too remote, the £2.2 million single-turbine project became the first to use a beach landing for crucial parts.

The turbine, which is wholly-owned by local people, won consent after those same local people demonstrated their overwhelming support for the project, and has added nearly a megawatt to the renewable energy capacity in one of the most remote parts of the Western Isles.

In the Central Belt, the Spirit Of Lanarkshire Wind Energy Co-operative raised almost £3m in the nine months to March 2014 to buy stakes in two wind farms being constructed in South Lanarkshire. Individuals and organisations were able to invest between £250 and £20,000, and the share offer was oversubscribed by more than £250,000. The first interest payment from the co-op was made to shareholders last November.

In Lochaber last October, the Sunart Community Renewables group launched a bid to raise £284,000 to develop a run-of-river hydro project. The group is now able to go ahead with just a small top-up loan from two social enterprise lenders after the appeal – in which local people could buy shares in the projects in return for a cut of anticipated profits – generated more than £750,000 in just five months.

Both these examples show the huge interest generated by renewable energy developments, and the desire from communities to get involved at an early stage. With the Scottish Government’s draft community energy policy statement currently in production, that interest will continue to grow.

A communities session at Scottish Renewables’ Onshore Wind Conference and Exhibition, to be held in Edinburgh on 23 June, will see the issues discussed and debated further as part of a full agenda featuring the key issues for the sector in Scotland.

• Joss Blamire is senior policy manager for Scottish Renewables www.scottishrenewables.com

• For more information on Scottish Renewables’ Onshore Wind Conference and Exhibition, to be held at the Hilton Edinburgh Grosvenor on 23 June, see http://bit.ly/SRonshore15.

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